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Cnet Founder Minor Sells $21.1 Million of Art to Pay Creditors

``Nurse in Hollywood #4,''
``Nurse in Hollywood #4,'' a 2004 canvas by Richard Prince. The work was part of the collection of CNET Networks Inc. founder Halsey Minor sold at Phillips de Pury in New York on May 13. Source: Phillips de Pury via Bloomberg

A painting of a blue-eyed nurse by Richard Prince and an aluminum couch by Marc Newson were among the artworks sold by Halsey Minor that helped the CNET Networks Inc. founder raise $21.1 million to pay his creditors.

His collection accounted for just 22 of the 74 lots offered at a contemporary art-and-design auction last night held by Phillips de Pury & Co. in New York, yet they took in more than half of the $37.9 million total, and were the highlight of the evening.

“He’s got a good eye,” said John Good, a director at Gagosian gallery in New York. “Between Prince, Newson and Ruscha, these are A pieces.”

Proceeds from the sale of Minor’s artworks will go toward a $21.6 million judgment obtained in October by ML Private Finance, a Bank of America affiliate, on a delinquent loan to Minor.

The Minor collection is too young for provenance to contribute to artworks’ value, said Todd Levin, director of New York-based advisers, Levin Art Group.

“It matters when it’s an established collection. When a collection was put together in the past five years, the provenance is moot,” he said.

Fashion designer Marc Jacobs, art dealer Larry Gagosian and jeweler Laurence Graff attended the auction, held in Phillips’s packed Chelsea salesroom. The mood was businesslike, but void of the party-like atmosphere of a typical Phillips sale.

Grace Kelly Look-alike

Prince’s 69-inch-tall “Nurse in Hollywood #4,” the 2004 canvas depicting a Grace Kelly look-alike, fetched $6.5 million, against a presale high estimate of $7 million. The work previously belonged to Steven Cohen, founder of SAC Capital Advisors LP in Stamford, Connecticut. It sparked a bidding war involving Sandy Heller, an art adviser to Cohen and other collectors, before going to a phone bidder, identified only as a seasoned European collector by Phillips.

Another highlight from Minor’s collection was the prototype 1988 “Lockheed Lounge” by Newson which fetched $2.1 million, up from the high estimate of $1.5 million. In 2006, the curvy, white-footed recliner sold for $968,000 at Sotheby’s New York.

Minor’s paintings by Ed Ruscha also did well. The artist’s depiction of a red-and-yellow feathered bird, “Angry Because It’s Plaster, Not Milk” (1965) fetched $3.2 million, up from high estimate of $3 million. Gagosian gallery, which represents the artist, bought the work. Minor had tried for years to acquire the painting which belonged to Ruscha, said Simon de Pury, chairman of Phillips de Pury.

The auction house charges buyers 25 percent of the hammer price up to $50,000, plus 20 percent from $50,000 to $1 million, plus 12 percent above $1 million. Estimates don’t include fees.

Refused to Pay

Minor has existing litigation with Sotheby’s and Christie’s International. In April, Sotheby’s won a $6.6 million judgment against Minor in connection with three artworks he had purchased at auction and later refused to pay for.

“Sotheby’s has a judgment lien on any sales proceeds in excess of the amounts payable to Phillips and Merrill Lynch as a result of an order entered by the court in Merrill Lynch’s action against Mr. Minor,” said Diana Phillips, Sotheby’s spokeswoman, in an emailed statement.

Minor and Christie’s remain embroiled in several lawsuits, with a jury trial underway in California this week. Minor sued Christie’s for an alleged mishandling of a consignment involving art by Prince; Christie’s sued Minor over default on payments for $13 million worth of art bought at auction.

More works from Minor’s collection are coming on the block at Phillips today and on June 9.

The two weeks of impressionist, modern postwar-art and contemporary-art sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s tallied $1.1 billion, up from $415.4 million in the same period last year.

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