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Dealers Pushed Aside by Private Collectors as Art Prices Surge

Adam Lindemann
New York-based art collector Adam Lindemann. In November 2007, he was the seller of the Jeff Koons sculpture ``Hanging Heart'' at Sotheby's, New York, for a record price of $23.6 million. Photographer: Peter Gregoire via Bloomberg

Private collectors have become more powerful than dealers and museums in influencing the art market, according to Adam Lindemann, the man who in 2007 briefly made Jeff Koons the world’s most expensive living artist.

“The value of art has changed forever. It’s never going to go back,” the New York-based collector and writer said in an interview at Art Basel in Switzerland. Lindemann is one of the thousands of collectors visiting the world’s largest fair of modern and contemporary works.

“The market has split. It’s bipolar,” said Lindemann. “There’s no middle market money any more. There’s the affordable stuff, and there’s a top tier of trophy works priced at $1 million up. Anything in between is in no man’s land.”

“Power” collectors such as Don and Mera Rubell, Dakis Joannou and Francois Pinault have changed the art market during the last decade, Lindemann said. Wealthy individuals are holding shows of emerging artists before they are discovered by dealers, striking fear into the exhibition programs of cash-strapped museums, he said.

“The private foundations have taken on such momentum that the museums are afraid of them,” said Lindemann, 48, wearing an open-necked shirt, blazer and cream slacks.

He gave the example of the U.S. artist Matthew Day Jackson, recently exhibited at Pinault’s Punta della Dogana museum in Venice. In February, the artist’s 2007 oval canvas “Bucky” sold for a record 601,250 pounds ($891,293) at a Christie’s International auction in London. Jackson has just been signed by the Zurich, London and New York-based dealers Hauser & Wirth, who sold a new wood sculpture by the artist on the first day of Art Basel priced at $150,000.

Koons Profit

Lindemann himself was an influence on the market when he sold the Koons sculpture “Hanging Heart (Magenta/ Gold)” at Sotheby’s in New York for $23.6 million with fees, the most paid for a work by a living artist at that time. He was reported to have bought the sculpture from the Gagosian Gallery for $4 million in 2005.

Koons was overtaken as the most expensive living artist in 2008 when Lucian Freud’s 1995 painting, “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,” fetched $33.6 million at Christie’s International.

“I don’t talk about what I sell,” Lindemann said. “What I would say is that I’ve never sold anything I didn’t wish I still had.”

The son of cell-phone billionaire entrepreneur George Lindemann, who developed the soft contact lens, Lindemann worked on Wall Street after Yale Law School. He later started his own investment firm.

He began collecting contemporary art in the early 1980s and acquired works by Julian Schnabel, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Koons, Urs Fischer, Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst. He is married to the gallerist Amalia Dayan, granddaughter of the Israeli general Moshe Dayan.

Bigger, Better

“I’m more risk-averse these days,” said Lindemann. “I feel safer with more established contemporary artists. I’m looking to buy better works, bigger works.” He declined to mention any specific purchases.

The market for contemporary art became more conservative after a crisis that in 2009 reduced the prices of some fashionable names by more than 50 percent, he said.

“Sadly there’s less bandwidth for new artists to emerge,” said Lindemann. “A lot of galleries got stuffed. They’re struggling to maintain their programs.”

Rising prices for established artists also reduced opportunities for museums to acquire the works to boost visitor numbers. Rather than donate valuable pieces to public institutions, many collectors will create their own museums, like the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, currently showing a Basquiat exhibition. One of its star works -- the 1982 painting “Untitled (Devil)” -- is owned by Lindemann.

“There’s room for a lot more private museums,” he said. “Perhaps one day, if I’m lucky enough to have the right works, I might even have my own ‘Beyeler.”

Art Basel’s main sponsor is UBS AG. The event takes place at Messe Basel, Messeplatz, 4005 Basel.


(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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