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Hedge Funder Cohen Eyes Rothko, $25 Million Richter Sells

"Untitled," a 1954 painting by Mark Rothko. The Abstract Expressionist work is being offered by Marlborough Fine Art at the 43rd edition of Art Basel in Switzerland. The fair runs though June 17. Source: Marlborough Fine Art via Bloomberg

A Gerhard Richter painting with a price of between $20 million and $25 million led sales at the world’s biggest fair of modern and contemporary art where U.S. billionaires Steven Cohen and Jerry Speyer were among the VIP visitors.

The New York-based collector Alberto Mugrabi and U.K. artist Tracey Emin joined other well-known faces at the UBS- sponsored Art Basel in Switzerland, now in its 43rd edition, with 300 galleries from 36 countries.

Richter’s monumental 1986 red, blue and yellow abstract “A.B. Courbet” was sold by Pace Gallery of New York on behalf of an unidentified collector. The dealership’s staff members confirmed the transaction today, saying the buyer was a U.S. based collector, though they wouldn’t say if the work had sold within the asking range.

The German artist is on a bull run at auctions, with a record $21.8 million paid at Christie’s International on May 8 for the 1993 painting “Abstraktes Bild (798-3).” Richter’s average auction price in 2012 is $3.1 million, compared to $290,112 in 2009, according to the Artnet database.

A 1954 Mark Rothko abstract from a Swiss collection, featuring a block of orange above a band of pale pink, remained unsold by the second afternoon, priced at $78 million via London-based Marlborough Fine Art.

Auction Records

Like Richter, it was testing confidence at the top end of the market with prices that reflected auction records for the artists achieved in May. The price is pitched just below the record $86.9 million achieved for a 1961 abstract at Christie’s in New York, also on May 8.

“Negotiations are still cooking,” Marlborough’s director Gilbert Lloyd said in an interview. South American and Russian clients were interested in the work, he said. Frank Auerbach’s 1985 painting “Head of J.Y.M.,” priced at 550,000 pounds ($857,200), featured among the gallery’s first-day sales.

“It’s quite classical and safe this year,” the Brussels-based art adviser Henry Bounameaux said in an interview. “I’m seeing a lot of familiar names. It must reflect what is going on in the economy. No one knows what is going to happen, and yet the art market still goes on.”

The diamond dust-encrusted 1981 Andy Warhol painting “Joseph Beuys” was among the first day’s sales. This had been marked at about $10 million on the booth of the New York dealer Acquavella. It was also purchased by a U.S.-based collector.

Hirst Sculpture

Damien Hirst’s 2006 sculpture “Stripper,” a vitrine containing hundreds of surgical instruments, was also available, priced at 3.75 million pounds on the booth of White Cube. The London-based dealership had sold several other works, including Mark Bradford’s 2012 mixed-media painting, “Witch in a Bottle,” for $550,000.

Art Basel remains the must-visit fair for curators, advisers and collectors in an increasingly crowded calendar. This year, the preview was extended to two days to meet growing demand from both established collectors and new buyers looking to art as an alternative to turbulent financial markets.

Cohen, founder of the hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors LP, and Speyer, chief executive of the property developers Tishman Speyer, were among the select “First Choice” invitees who arrived in pouring rain for privileged access to the fair before the main crowd of VIPs was admitted at 3 p.m yesterday.

Gagosian’s Picasso

Cohen, wearing a baseball cap with the logo “NERO,” was spotted shaking hands with the dealer Larry Gagosian on a booth packed with museum-quality works by established artists such as Warhol, Hirst, Pablo Picasso and Robert Rauschenberg. This year, Gagosian brought an estimated $250 million of works to a fair that has inventory valued at about $2 billion.

Though the preview was dominated by art-fair regulars, several dealers reported selling to new clients.

“I sold works priced at more than $1 million to a Scandinavian and an Israeli buyer I hadn’t met before,” said the Swiss dealer Karsten Greve, who has the 1966 Cy Twombly blackboard painting “Hill (Rome),” tagged on his booth at more than $12 million.

New York-based Skarstedt Gallery was one of several dealerships to be enthusiastic about the new tiered two-day preview at Art Basel.

“It’s good to be able to talk to important collectors without being interrupted,” said Per Skarstedt, gallery director, who sold a 1984 Albert Oehlen self-portrait for between $1.5 million and $2 million. The 1987 Rosemarie Trockel knitted painting “Made in Western Germany” sold for $1 million.

Hufkens’s Bourgeois

A lyrical Louise Bourgeois 2010 mixed media work on paper, “A Baudelaire (#9) The Impossible,” was sold by Brussels-based dealer Xavier Hufkens to a European collector. It had an asking price of $1.4 million.

The dealer, in common with most exhibitors interviewed by Bloomberg News, described levels of business as about the same as last year. He was also another of a majority of exhibitors who expressed enthusiasm for the two-day preview.

“You can spend much more time with collectors and actually talk about art, yet they still feel the pressure to buy,” Hufkens said. “It wasn’t good when people were pushing each other aside to get into the fair.”

Other exhibitors, who declined to be named, were unhappy about having to class valued clients as either “First Choice” or ordinary VIPs. Some had been reluctant to hand over client lists to Art Basel, which had issued the VIP invitations, rather than the galleries themselves.

Todd Levin

“It feels more blue-chip and thoughtful this year,” the New York-based adviser Todd Levin said in an interview. “The market used to be shaped like a bell-curve. Now there are just two spikes. One for the top artists, and the other for younger names. It’s difficult for the stuff in between.”

The U.S. artist Rudolf Stingel was one of the blue-chip names in demand. His “Untitled (Paula),” based on an old black and white photograph of the New York gallerist Paula Cooper smoking a cigarette, was sold by Cooper to a European private institution for about $3 million in the Art Unlimited sector.

Hauser & Wirth sold the 1978 Philip Guston canvas “Orders” for $6 million and the 1993 Bourgeois mixed media sculpture “Arched Figure” for $2 million. Both were bought by European collectors.

The New York dealer Tony Shafrazi was also breaking new ground by giving over his booth to a one-man show of his own artworks. The brightly-colored “tablets,” combining photographic images with text, are priced at $50,000 to $150,000, said gallery staff member John J. Czaplicki, who would not give details of confirmed sales.

Art Basel runs at the Messe Basel through June 17. The fair’s specialist offshoot Design Miami/Basel runs concurrently nearby, as do the satellite contemporary-art shows Liste, Volta and Scope at other venues in the Swiss city.

Art Basel has offshoots in Miami Beach (Dec. 6-9) and Hong Kong (May 23-26 2013),


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

Muse highlights include: James Pressley on books and Warwick Thompson on London theater.

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