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Top 200 Collectors

Black-and-white portrait of a middle-aged white
Photo: Spencer Lowell

Nicolas Berggruen

Beverly Hills, California

Inheritance, investments (Berggruen Holdings)

Contemporary art; Modern art

Overview

It could be said that an interest in collecting art runs in Nicolas Berggruen’s DNA. His father, the late Heinz Berggruen, was a dealer and collector whose blue-chip art holdings—valued at some $450 million—became the basis for a Berlin museum in his name. And John Berggruen, a dealer with a San Francisco–based gallery, and art historian Oliver Berggruen are among Nicolas’s siblings.

Famously dubbed the “homeless billionaire” by Bloomberg because of his habit of living nomadically across ritzy European hotels, Nicolas runs an investment company, as well as the Berggruen Institute, which aims to “develop foundational ideas about how to reshape political and social institutions” as a way to “promote long-term answers to the biggest challenges of the 21st century,” according to its website. Outside the art scene, the institute is best known for facilitating the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture, a $1 million award that has gone to the likes of former U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and philosopher Charles Taylor. But within the art world, the institute’s influence is also growing. In 2021, Nicolas acquired Venice’s Casa de Trei Oci for usage by his institute; it will host events and exhibitions in collaboration with the U.K.’s Tate network and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

While the contents of Nicolas’s collection have largely been kept secret, it is known that he favors buying major works by blue-chip artists. In 2012, for example, the Los Angeles Times reported that Berggruen had been quietly acquiring pieces by artists like Ed Ruscha, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, and more, and gifting them to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where he is a trustee. Among the most famous works in Nicolas’s holdings is Chris Burden’s Metropolis II (2010), a gigantic sculpture that when activated resembles a whirring city, which is on long-term loan to LACMA.

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