His art collection includes works by Cy Twombly, Ellsworth Kelly, Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Pablo Picasso, Lucio Fontana and Alberto Giacometti.
Looser applied the same tenacity to collecting that he brought to business, buying works by U.S. artists who were under-represented in European museums and spending between $500,000 and $1 million per work. Last year he agreed to lend 70 pieces to the Zurich Kunsthaus on permanent loan. An exhibition, “The Hubert Looser Collection,” runs through Sept. 8.
“I wanted to buy art in the top league and transform my money into art,” he says. “I only wanted museum quality art. I bought one or two works a year. I put quality before quantity. I did a lot of work to make sure I didn’t make mistakes.”
Scott Reyburn sat down with the Rachofsky’s in Switzerland to hear more about what they’re buying and where they think the market is going. After an obligatory blessing of the market’s growth, Rachofsky affirmed his belief that there are many market opportunities both in established and younger artists—”He owns paintings by Polke, Marlene Dumas and Luc Tuymans, as well as pieces by Richard Aldrich, Katy Moran and Jacob Kassay.”
In the last four years, they’ve been buying Japanese postwar art, amassing what Howard calls a “definitive” collection of as many as 100 pieces by artists such as Shiraga, Saburo Murakami and Shozo Shimamoto.
“Japanese postwar is an undervalued area of the market,” he says. “Our primary concern isn’t financial. There’s a whole evolution of thinking right now about mid-20th-century art movements and we’re trying to be part of the dialogue.”
Curators, dealers and collectors are ahead of the auction houses in rediscovering Japan’s 1950s and ’60s avant-garde.
The Gutai group was the subject of a recent survey at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The Belgium-based dealer Axel Vervoordt sold an abstract by Shiraga — who painted with his feet — to a Swiss collector for 1.2 million euros ($1.6 million) at the Dutch Tefaf art fair in March.
The Rachofskys are currently showing the exhibition “Parallel Views,” exploring the relationship between Japanese art and Arte Povera, in their Texas warehouse space.
The Telegraph has a profile of David Walsh, the mathematically gifted gambler, and his Tasmanian Museum of New and Old Art (Mona) which has proven the phenomenal power that art has to attract tourists in the 21st Century:
Walsh calls Mona a secular temple and a subversive adult Disneyland. If some of his early ideas for exhibits – a crematorium and an abattoir that were viewable – remain unrealised, Mona still goes somewhere beyond the frontiers of taste into the badlands of emotion. It has been derided as a museum for the YouTube generation, an underground inverted pyramid, an egoseum, the future, the past, an un-museum and – hurtfully for Walsh, one feels – conventional. Mostly, people have loved it.
Designed like a Borgesian labyrinth, lit like a nightclub, Mona, since it opened on a remote island with a population of 500,000, has attracted more than 700,000 people. Visitors came first from Tasmania, then from Australia and now, increasingly, from the world – a growing caravan of celebrities, art lovers, aficionados, camp followers and the curious. In less than two years, Mona has become Tasmania’s foremost tourist attraction and a significant driver of its languishing economy. Lonely Planet listed Hobart as one of the world’s top 10 cities to visit in 2013, largely because of Mona.
Nicolas Berggruen has a knack for using his art collecting as a means to generate publicity. The Financial Times played a bit of this game with the “homeless billionaire” over the weekend in an odd hybrid story that was pegged to the re-opening of the museum his father, Heinz, bequeathed to Berlin. But the bulk of the piece is about Nicolas and why he has chosen Los Angeles to receive much of his own collection and collecting efforts:
“It’s a simple idea,” comes his reply in answer to my question about the focus of his own collecting. “I made a commitment to one place, which is Lacma [Los Angeles County Museum of Art]. Why? I live in New York, I love New York, but LA is a young city, a city that is broken up. It has wonderful collectors, but all individual, narcissistic.”
Compared with the federalising civic mood of a city such as Dallas, LA’s geography and ethos, in his view, make it “culturally dysfunctional”. Nicolas feels – although he puts it modestly – that he can help.
“I grew up in Paris but Paris doesn’t need me. Berlin doesn’t need me.” (I long to tell him that London does, but I refrain.) He chose Lacma as a growing place that he admires for its vision and determination under director Michael Govan, whom Berggruen describes as “a builder – dynamic, with a very good eye, and” – that word again – “civic-minded”.
As an encyclopaedic museum that aims to span the centuries and move well beyond western art, it needs, he says, both funds and art.
So how, I ask, does this commitment work? Like his father’s, his acquisitions focus on a small number of contemporary artists of very high quality: one group “happens to be German”; the others from the West Coast. And indeed, the roll-call is as magnificent as his father’s, the aristocracy of today’s art scene: the Europeans are Schütte, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter and Joseph Beuys, while the American artists number Bruce Nauman (“I consider him one of the greatest living artists”), Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and – much less well-known in Europe but still, Berggruen feels, “a genius” – Chris Burden.
The Real Ideal, Times Two (Financial Times)
Sotheby’s released some details this week from the Russian sales that suggest the category is experiencing a rotation amid the collector base. According to the firm,
- 20% of buyers in the London Russian sales were new to Sotheby’s
- Top lots by Fechin and Goncharova were won by first-time buyers at Sotheby’s
Moreover, Sotheby’s points out that among those new buyers in the £17m sale were a number who were not from Russia or the CIS. Perhaps that accounts for the 40% of the lots sold on the opening night exceeding high estimate. Sotheby’s leaves us with this one final thought. Buyers of Russian art have eclectic tastes beyond the category
The sales also emphasised the importance of established buyers from Russia and the CIS, almost 70% of whom, in addition to their activity this week, are currently also making their mark in other collecting categories at Sotheby’s today.
Whenever there’s talk of the shrinking Impressionist & Modern market, the usual explanation is the lack of supply. There aren’t enough works going around to get critical mass in the auctions and estates are few and far between. That logic would suggest all of the great works bought during the last art boom from 2005-2008 had been donated to museums. Obviously, that’s not the case.
If you’ve been paying attention to the London Impressionist and Modern Evening sale catalogues, as Colin Gleadell has, you would have noticed that the top lots from both London evening sales come from the Nahmad family. With their long history of buying—and ability to buy opportunistically during panics—the Nahmads are able to sell at strong profit where others are forced to hold their works for some time to get a return.
So the issue with the Impressionist and Modern market may not be supply of works but the cost basis of those works during the boom which makes them hard to sell at auction. This odd occurrence of the Nahmads having the lead works in both sales brings up another point we’ve made from time to time on this site concerning art funds.
The Nahmads’ vast holdings are, in effect, an art fund. There have been many successful art funds in the world if you consider secondary dealers—many of whom have spread the risk through financial backers—to be art funds. Where the model becomes difficult is when you try to create a fund with horizons dictated by the investors, not the opportunities presented by the market.
As Gleadell points out, the Nahmads—without the demands of investors seeking redemptions or predictable returns—can wait for their moment which appears to be now:
It was once said that the Nahmads propped up this market with their buying when times were tough; now they appear to be propping it up with their selling. It’s not unusual for the salerooms to rummage through the Nahmad stock rooms to boost their auctions. In June 2007, the Nahmads provided Christie’s with a record breaking $41.5 million painting by Monet, Le pont du chemin de fer, Argenteuil, 1904, which they had bought 10 years earlier for $2 million. But I don’t recall a time when they supplied both Sotheby’s and Christie’s with their top lots.
Although neither the family or its businesses are named as the sellers, the works were shown at the Kunsthaus Zurich two years ago as part of the Nahmad collection, and have not changed hands since they were bought at auction prior to that. The Monet was bought below the estimate for £2.8 million during a post-recessionary market plateau in 1996. Recently, the Monet market in general has been very buoyant, but there have not been any great, late Venetian views like this one for sale. Evidently Sotheby’s knows someone who wants such a painting at that price because it comes to auction with a guarantee of a sale from a third party.
Also guaranteed is the Kandinsky at Christie’s – a significant transitional painting made as the artist was feeling his way from figuration to pure abstraction. The Nahmads bought this in the tremors of the last market wobble in November 2008, below estimate for what was probably a bargain for such an historically important artist, at $16.9 million. Their decision to sell has no doubt been influenced by the record $23 million (£14.4 million) set for another Kandinsky painting from the same series last November. With the extent of Russian interest in Kandinsky, a new record could be in the offing.
Today’s excellent Bloomberg story on Halsey Minor’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing reminds us of Halsey Minor’s long history of using art as a store of value. As Bloomberg’s Dawn McCartney and Ari Levy point out, Minor went to his art collection when his other illiquid assets were less accessible:
Minor has been selling his art collection to pay debts. In 2010, he sold a painting of a blue-eyed nurse by Richard Prince and an aluminum couch by Marc Newson to help raise $21.1 million for his creditors. Proceeds from the sales went toward a $21.6 million judgment obtained in October 2009 by ML Private Finance, a Bank of America Corp. affiliate, on a delinquent loan.
In April 2010, Sotheby’s Inc. won a $6.6 million judgment against him in connection with three artworks he bought at auction and later refused to pay for.
It is worth pointing out that Minor had previously been successful in arbitraging value through his art purchases. Though one might have asked whether he would have been safer in cash, Minor told Carol Vogel in 2002 that he saw his American Art investments as a net gain when he sold works to raise cash then.
”I like art, but I’ve always looked at it as an investment,” Mr. Minor said in a recent telephone interview. ”When the CNET stock was at $35 to $55 a share, I decided to buy physical assets like art and real estate. Now the stock is at $3.50. I wish the art was worth the same as it was when I paid for it, but I still think I came out ahead. When I look at people who kept all their money in the market, I thank my lucky stars.”
The Americans at Lower Prices (Inside Art/New York Times)
Minor, who sold his stake in the news website CNET to CBS in 2008 for $1.7 billion, has been embroiled in several legal disputes in the last few years, including lawsuits with Sotheby’s over his purchase of three expensive paintings.
He also launched expensive ventures into hotel management and horse breeding.
In an email statement sent to reporters, Minor said: “A case might have been made that I should never have strayed from technology. However, I like doing things outside my comfort zone, and I believe that willingness in part accounts for my tech successes.”
CNET Founder Files for Bankruptcy (Los Angeles Times)
Two brothers in Hong Kong—along with their 9 other siblings—have been embroiled in conflict over the proceeds of their father’s estate. The father was a well-known photographer who was close friends with Zhang Daqian and eventually become an art dealer.
With the explosion in value for Zhang Daqian’s work, the estate has recently yielded tens of millions of dollars. But the siblings argue, in that age old complaint, that John Kao has not been sharing the proceeds, according to the South China Morning Post:
Kao Ling-mai died in 1993. Before his death, he had more than 120 artworks classified under a “special collection” and over 100 others by Zhang and other famous artists, the writ stated. […]
They eventually reached a settlement, agreeing for the property and all their father’s paintings and calligraphies to be distributed equally among the 11 siblings and their families. The “special collection” would be publicly auctioned by Sotheby’s, and thereafter, the proceeds similarly distributed.
But in his writ, Winston Kao claimed John Kao “wrongfully” withheld HK$33 million from him, paying him only HK$22.8 million. He said Sotheby’s had in May last year sold 25 “special collection” items for a total of HK$626 million after deducting expenses.
Brothers in legal wrangle over father’s precious art collection (South China Morning Post)
Just catching up on this mini-profile in the Wall Street Journal of art historian Emily Braun who has had perhaps a far more significant job moonlighting with Leonard Lauder. What’s interesting in the profile—besides the fascinating academic-museum-art-market dynamic casually discussed in passing—is the reminder of how much work sits in storage, far from public view or, even, market knowledge:
In addition to serving as steward of Mr. Lauder’s cubist collection, a part-time job for which she is on call 24 hours a day, Ms. Braun is an art-history professor at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She has also written books, curated shows and contributed to exhibition catalogs. She is co-curating an exhibition of the Lauder collection planned by the Met next year and guest curating a retrospective of the Italian painter Alberto Burri at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2015.
Friends and colleagues say she moves effortlessly from the scholarly world, where she is known for doggedly tracking down historical details, to the art market, where she keeps tabs on which cubist works are available for sale—and whether they merit Mr. Lauder’s consideration. (With Ms. Braun’s help, Mr. Lauder will continue to acquire works for the collection even after it goes to the Met.)
“A lot of my job has been saying no before things get to him,” said Ms. Braun, 55 years old.
The Secret Behind Lauder’s Gift (Wall Street Journal)