Billionaire Griffin Pays $500 Million for Two Paintings

The New Contemporary

The Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.

Source: Art Institute of Chicago
  • Buys Pollock, de Kooning from David Geffen's foundation
  • Billionaire's purchase in fall preceded art market's slowdown

Billionaire Ken Griffin paid about $500 million for two paintings by Abstract Expressionist masters in one of the largest private art deals ever, according to people familiar with the transaction.

Griffin, founder of Chicago-based hedge fund firm Citadel, bought works by Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning from David Geffen’s foundation, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is confidential.

The deal, completed in the fall, is a record for both artists and exceeds the last high mark for a private sale, the $300 million that Qatar Museums paid for Paul Gauguin’s painting “When Will You Marry?” Griffin’s purchase preceded a slowdown in the art market in the second half of 2015. Sales of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in London earlier this month fell from a year ago.

“In order to own the greatest art historical objects of our time one has to go above and beyond to obtain them,” said Abigail Asher, a partner at art advisory firm Guggenheim Asher Associates Inc. in New York, who wasn’t involved in the transaction.

Zia Ahmed, a spokesperson for Citadel, declined to comment.

Kenneth Griffin.
Kenneth Griffin.
Photographer: Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg

Griffin bought de Kooning’s 1955 oil on canvas titled “Interchanged” -- also known as “Interchange” -- for about $300 million and Pollock’s 1948 “Number 17A" canvas for about $200 million, one of the people said. The de Kooning fetched $20.7 million in 1989, then an auction record for the artist and more than three times the highest pre-sale estimate of $6 million, according to Artnet, which tracks auction prices. Pollock’s work was featured in a 1949 Life magazine article that helped make him a household name.

Both paintings went on display at the Art Institute of Chicago in September 2015, said Amanda Hicks, director of public affairs at the museum. Griffin has been a trustee since 2004 and helped build the museum’s Modern wing, she said.  

“Masterpieces in their own right, de Kooning’s ‘Interchange’ and Jackson Pollock’s ‘Number 17A’ had a tremendous impact at the moment of their making,” James Rondeau, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, said in an e-mail.

On Feb. 17 art industry newsletter Baer Faxt published an unconfirmed report of the Griffin transaction. It didn’t name Griffin or Geffen.

Griffin -- who has a net worth of $5.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index -- has been turning heads with art, real estate and philanthropic efforts.

In December, he donated $40 million to New York’s Museum of Modern Art, one of the largest gifts in the institution’s 85-year history. In February 2015, Griffin paid $46.4 million for a 10-foot-tall painting by Gerhard Richter at Sotheby’s, an auction record for the German artist. Citadel last week signed a lease for about 200,000 square feet in a new skyscraper on Park Avenue.

Griffin’s flagship $15.4 billion fund, Citadel Wellington, returned 14.3 percent in 2015, scoring 31st among top 50 funds with more than $1 billion under management.

Geffen, whose art collection was valued at $2.3 billion before the transaction, recently put his Malibu beach house up for sale for $100 million. Last year, the entertainment mogul announced plans to donate $100 million to renovate and rename Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. It’s now called David Geffen Hall.

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