About the work

The Billionaire project is rooted in the research behind the The Art Board work, that lead to the realization that while in the business world it is common for individuals to sit in multiple boards, in the art space it is rare to have individuals sitting on the board of multiple museums. The Billionaires investigation expands the research from billionaires to their family members. It relies on crowdsourced knowledge on 205,548 individuals, data collected by the LittleSis project. BarabasiLab identified 76 billionaires and 29 of their family members that had direct relationships to 39 art or cultural institutions. The resulting network (Image 28) reveals not only how billionaires themselves connect artistic institutions, but also how through their family members, billionaires are more embedded in the art world than their personal involvement suggests. 

The investigation has unveiled six billionaire families that extend their influence by family members on the board of different institutions, avoiding the appearance that the same person controls multiple institutions. For example, Leon Black sat on the board of MOMA, while his wife, Deboard Black sat on the board of the MET, with the tacit agreement of these institutions. Each of the six paintings puts a spotlight on one such family, who have bypassed conflict issues and thus, together have enormous influence on multiple art institutions.


Credit: Billionaires, A.-L. Barabási, L.Shekhtman, Y.Liu, S.Dikshit (Rollers: all same + D. Koshkina)

Shekhtman, L.M., Barabási, AL. Philanthropy in art: locality, donor retention, and prestige. Sci Rep 13, 12157 (2023).

The  Billionaires paint rollers is a medium rooted in Barabási's childhood in Transylvania, where he regularly worked with his grandfather, an interior painter. A common tool he used to pattern interior walls in the 1970s and 80s were the paint rollers. In the past decades, the use of paint rollers has vanished, thanks to changing tastes and the emergence of affordable wallpapers. Barabási has researched the history of paint rollers in Transylvania and Hungary, and revived this old practice into a dataits arts medium



Image 27 – The rollers used in the Billionaires art project. Photo Credit: Emma Schwartz
Image 28 – UHNW Art Museum board Members, 2022 acrylic on canvas 47-1/4 x 47-1/4 in 120 x 120 cm
Image 29 –   Adjacencies No 1,Booth&Booth, 2022 acrylic on canvas 15-3/4 x 15-3/4 in 40 x 40 cm
Image 30 – Adjacencies No 2, Griffin &Griffin, 2022 acrylic on cancas 15 3/4 x 15 3/4 in 40 x 40 cm
Image 31 – Adjacencies No 3, Lee & Tennenbaum, 2022 acrylic on cancas 15 3/4 x 15 3/4 in 40 x 40 cm
Image 32 – Adjacencies No 4, Black & Black, 2022 acrylic on cancas 15 3/4 x 15 3/4 in 40 x 40 cm
Image 33 – Adjacencies No 5, Lucas & Hobson, 2022 acrylic on cancas 15 3/4 x 15 3/4 in 40 x 40 cm
Image 34 – Adjacencies No 6, Speyer & Farley, 2022 acrylic on cancas 15 3/4 x 15 3/4 in 40 x 40 cm