Why Big Arts Giving Lies Ahead For This Cosmopolitan Billionaire

So far, on paper, billionaire Nicolas Berggruen's arts philanthropy hasn't been overwhelming. On the one hand, his Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Foundation has held close to $30 million in assets in recent years. On the other hand, its list of annual grantees only includes a few outfits such as the Portland Art Museum, MoCA, and Museum Associates, a nonprofit that helps maintain LACMA. Total annual grantmaking has barely topped $600,000 recently.

Still, much bigger giving lies ahead for this investor, with a good portion of that money likely going to the arts. We know this for several reasons. For one, Berggruen is a Giving Pledge signatory, which means that the bulk of his $1.6 billion fortune (which might grow even larger) is headed toward philanthropy.

In addition, Berggruen is yet another billionaire investor deep into art collecting who has close ties to the art world. I've written before about the art obsessions of other finance guys such as Henry KravisSteve Cohen and Leon Black. Like Black, Berggruen comes from an arts family. Berggruen's father was an arts dealer and Berggruen's mother was an actress. Actually, I might be underselling Berggruen's father, Heinz, a bit. The older Berggruen had a career in the arts that spanned decades, including working as an arts critic in San Francisco, serving as Pablo Picasso's arts dealer, and amassing a huge arts collection worth $450 million. Oh, and he founded the Berggruen Museum in Berlin, which the younger Berggruen now helps manage.

Like his father, Berggruen is passionate about the arts. Outside of the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Foundation and his investment firm Berggruen Holdings, another entity called the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Trust Collection consists of works by some of the most influential artists of the twentieth century including Picasso and Warhol, as well as contemporary works by artists such as Jeff Koons.

And here's the good news: It's likely that a lot of these works will be gifted to museums. He told the Los Angeles Times that "I'm going to give everything away. Everything has been transferred to charitable trusts. There is no question about that. The question is where, not if."

One possible recipient of his works is LACMA, where he serves on the board of trustees. Bruggruen, who recently bought a home a West Hollywood and shed his nickname, the "homeless billionaire," clearly has an interest in Los Angeles and its booming arts scene, as do a number of billionaires these days. 

In addition to sitting on the board at LACMA, Berggruen is also a member of the International Councils for the Tate Museum in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. These outfits are also possible sites of future arts philanthropy from Berggruen.

It's also worth noting that apart from visual arts, Berggruen recently partnered with Arianna Huffington to launch a journalism and new media venture called the World Post, covering international affairs. This is consistent with another interest of the billionaire: policy, which he attempts to influence through the Berggruen Institute, dedicated to "the design and implementation of new ideas of good governance." I'll drill into that work in another post. 

Given how much the 53-year-old Berggruen has going on, it's not too surprising that more money hasn't yet gone towards the arts. But the ingredients are certainly there for some big arts gifts in the coming years. Stay tuned.

Related: Nicolas Berggruen Profile