The most expensive wall painting ever?


Stephen Foley
Friday 03 February 2012 01:00
David Choe’s mural in Facebook’s California office. He was paid in shares for his work - a good decision now that his stake is potentially worth $200m
David Choe’s mural in Facebook’s California office. He was paid in shares for his work - a good decision now that his stake is potentially worth $200m

Jackson Pollock may lose his record for creating the most expensive painting ever – and not to another enfant terrible of the art world , but to a minor Los Angeles mural painter who happened upon the Facebook offices in 2005.

David Choe could be the unlikeliest of all the millionaires and billionaires who will be minted by the social network's flotation this spring. If the company hits the top valuations being talked about, then Mr Choe will have been paid about $200m (£126m) for the "graphic sexual murals" that adorned Facebook's walls in its early years.

Mr Choe, who says his "dirty-style figure paintings combine themes of desire, degradation, and exaltation", took shares in Facebook instead of a cash payment. Although he told friends at the time that Facebook was a "ridiculous and pointless" idea that wouldn't succeed, he made the gamble, and now the shares look like being the hottest property on the US stock market.

With Facebook being pitched in the $75bn-$100bn range, those murals could turn out to be more expensive than the $140m paid in 2006 for Pollock's No 5, 1948 – or even the $200.7m paid at auction for a collection of Damient Hirst pieces in 2008.

Although Mr Choe declined to speak about his new-found wealth when The New York Times tracked him down, his Facebook fanpage tells his story: "In 2005, internet entrepreneur Sean Parker, a longtime fan, asked him to paint graphic sexual murals in the interior of Facebook's first Silicon Valley office, and in 2007, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg commissioned him to paint somewhat tamer murals for their next office."

Mr Parker, who founded Napster, was on the Facebook board in 2005 and is another newly minted billionaires. He was played by Justin Timberlake in the movie of the company's early days, The Social Network, in which he is reputed to have said: "A million dollars isn't cool. You know what's cool? One billion dollars."

About 250 of Facebook's earliest employees, many still at the company, will be worth millions of dollars on paper after the flotation, thanks to share options handed out after it was created by Mr Zuckerberg. The flotation could also mint one of Silicon Valley's few female billionaires, in Sheryl Sandberg, a former chief of staff at the US Treasury who joined Facebook from Google in 2007. She will be the face Facebook shows to Wall Street as a public company, since she has mastered the corporate-speak that is the lingua franca of investors, and which is not yet Mr Zuckerberg's forte.

Among the other unlikely beneficiaries is Bono, whose venture capital firm Elevation Partners put $200m into the site two years ago. That stake could now be worth more than $1bn.

And while Mr Zuckerberg will be by far the biggest beneficiary – his stake could be worth $28bn – he has spread the love around his family, too.

His sister, Randi, was paid $360,000 for three years work at Facebook until she left last year. And his father, Edward Zuckerberg, who taught his son programming on the family's Atari 800, was given two million shares in 2009.

$1bn: Potential value of 1% Facebook stake bought by Bono's investment firm for $200m in 2009/10

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