Online Extra: Q&A: "Quality Things Always Have a Market"

Noted collector Eli Broad on the state of art, Sotheby's troubles, and his recent purchases

This is something of a watershed year for Eli Broad, a respected art collector and chairman of SunAmerica, the Los Angeles financial-services group. A major show of works from the collection Broad and his wife Edythe have assembled is on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through Jan. 6, before moving on to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. There's also a new book out, Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons: Four Decades of Art from the Broad Collections (Abrams, $60). The Broad (rhymes with road) holdings include major concentrations of works by such important post-war painters as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns (see BW Online, 10/29/01, "Art Collecting, Eli Broad Style"), as well as hot younger artists such the German photographer Andreas Gursky.

BusinessWeek Online Contributing Editor Thane Peterson recently checked in with Broad by telephone. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: Were you actively buying at the recent New York art auctions?

A: Yes, we bought two things. We bought the Lichtenstein Mirror [Mirror #1, which sold for $2.2 million] and the large horizontal drawing by Jasper Johns [Untitled, which sold for $2.5 million].

Q: Those paintings went for top dollar. What does that tell you about the art market? You've been pretty cautious last year and the year before when I talked to you.

A: I am still fairly cautious about the market. But, you know, good quality things always have a market. It's the secondary work, the lower-priced work, that fades away when people are concerned about their incomes and future. The good works fetched good prices. And they went to intelligent buyers rather than stock-market or real estate people who don't have a passion for the art.

Q: Did you see any bargains at the fall art auctions?

A: I didn't see any great bargains for [top-quality] work. I didn't think the two paintings I bought were bargains. I think I paid full price.

Q: There's still quite a bit of froth in the contemporary art market, isn't there?

A: Well, I suppose so. If you look at Christie's, they fetched $600,000 for a [Andreas] Gursky. We collect Gursky, and I was rather surprised.

Q: Do you think that was too much? It was supposed to be one of his best images.

A: After all, it was an edition of six, including an artist's proof. I do know that we acquired from Andreas Gursky five important works in the last year.

Q: Wow! You acquired five Gursky's directly from the artist?

A: Yeah, from him. Because he wanted to be in our Broad Foundation collection. One of my favorites is 99 Cent Store. It was in the [New York] Museum of Modern Art show of Gurksy's work.

Look, I think contemporary art, clearly of certain photographers, whether Gursky or [Thomas] Struth or Cindy Sherman, have done exceptionally well. After that, it's a mixed bag. With the great masters -- Lichtenstein, Johns, Cy Twombly -- when good works come on the market, they fetch good prices.

Q: Any other thoughts on the market. What about the hot competition among the auction houses, with Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg challenging Christie's and Sotheby's? Is that good for you as a collector?

A: I think competition is good for us as collectors. It's good to have a third house that's active.

Q: Do you think Sotheby's is in deep trouble at this point, now that former Chairman A. Alfred Taubman has been convicted of price fixing, with former CEO Diana Brooks testifying against him?

A: No, no, I don't think Sotheby's is in deep trouble. They're embarrassed with all that's going on. I also think that the auction business has become a very tough business with all these guarantees that are being made. For a profit point of view, it has become very tough.

Q: How do you think the art market will fare next year, given the weak economy?

A: The art market generally [lags behind] the economy and the stock market. I'm one of those people who think the recession may last longer than expected. But I don't think the effect on the art market will be comparable to [the crash in art prices in] 1990. I think it will be "steady as she goes" in the art market. Good works will continue to command good prices.

Q: What's your advice for collectors next year?

A: My advice is the same as always: They should spend time studying. Collecting is an investment more of time than money.

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