Kravis, Loeb Hit Art Show as $2 Million Painting Sells

A $2 million painting by Ellsworth Kelly and five light holograms by James Turrell, priced at $100,000 apiece, were among the first artworks snapped up by collectors at the opening of the Art Show in Manhattan.

The 26th annual fair opened yesterday at the Park Avenue Armory to VIPs including Henry Kravis, co-chairman of the buyout firm KKR & Co. and Daniel Loeb, whose hedge fund Third Point LLC has criticized Sotheby’s for its sliding competitive position against Christie’s International Plc. Philanthropists Agnes Gund and Eli Broad strolled the aisles jammed with patrons wearing furs and diamonds and eating manchego-slathered lamb meatballs, sushi and mini pulled-pork sliders.

“If you want to buy something, you better be prepared to pay a lot,” said Howard Rachofsky, a Dallas-based collector and former hedge-fund manager.

Wealthy buyers are flocking to art after prices surged in the past decade, beating asset classes such as U.S. stocks, gold and fine wine. The Artnet C50 Index, which combines performance data from 50 contemporary and postwar artists, advanced 434 percent from the beginning of 2003 through 2013, according to research firm Artnet Worldwide Corp. The Liv-Ex 100 Benchmark Fine Wine Index gained 160 percent in the same period, as the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of U.S. stocks advanced 160 percent and the NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index climbed 51 percent, including reinvested dividends.

Ceramic Eggs

AllianceBernstein Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Peter Kraus looked at a picnic spread of tiny ceramic eggs, pastries and other delicacies, a $250,000 artwork by Charles LeDray, at the booth of Sperone Westwater gallery. Across the aisle, Galerie Lelong priced Petah Coyne’s installation, featuring a taxidermy peacock and snow geese, at $1.2 million.

The event, organized by the Art Dealers Association of America, kicked off Armory Arts Week in New York, an annual bazaar of competing events, with at least 10 fairs presenting hundreds of international galleries and thousands of artists.

Anchored by the Armory Show on the Hudson River piers 92 and 94, the week also coincides with the Whitney Biennial, an influential survey of contemporary art organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art. The Whitney show’s opening last night resulted in an early outflow of dealers and collectors.

The Art Show is known for high quality and historic material, a place where it’s not uncommon to spot works by Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollock. Its opening night doubles as a fundraiser for the nonprofit social-services agency Henry Street Settlement, with tickets ranging from $175 to $2,000.

‘Good Causes’

“It’s a little bit how Robin Hood channels money for good causes,” said James Tomilson Hill, Blackstone Group LP vice chairman and the event’s co-chairman.

Art insurance company, AXA Art Americas Corp., is the fair’s lead sponsor for the third consecutive year, the role once played by Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

Out of 72 exhibitors, 38 dealers mounted solo artist shows, up from 24, or 58 percent, from five years ago, ranging from black monochromes of Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967) to oddly shaped Reinhardt-inspired canvases by emerging artist Jacob Kassay.

“There are fewer dealers who are bringing Impressionist and modern art to the fair,” said David Nash, co-owner of Mitchell-Inness and Nash gallery in New York, which has participated in the show since 2003. “Clearly the market is very excited by contemporary art at the moment.”

Black Paintings

Sean Kelly’s booth resembled a chapel of kitsch, with burgundy walls and eight glittering paintings shaped as Russian and Greek Orthodox icons by Kehinde Wiley. Each piece depicted a chiseled black man, sometimes sporting tattoos, as a medieval saint or royal on 22-carat gold leaf surfaces. Priced at $75,000 each, more than half of the booth sold in the first two hours, Kelly said.

Following the large Reinhardt exhibition in Chelsea last year, David Zwirner gallery procured a rare group of six “black” oil-on-paper works by the postwar artist.

Exhibited in the U.S. for the first time, the group sold for $3 million to a European collection, the gallery said. The 1960 works explored the six possible color arrangements for what became known as Reinhardt’s “ultimate” black paintings.

Matthew Marks, whose gallery returned to the fair for the first time since 2009, brought works on paper by Jasper Johns, Brice Marden and Lucian Freud.

‘Faired Out’

“I have done literally hundreds of fairs since I opened my gallery 23 years ago and I was faired out,” Marks said. “I questioned whether I needed to do a fair in New York where I have several galleries. But it’s convenient for clients. I have nice things and it’s nice to show them rather than just sell them.”

Shortly after the show opened, he sold the $2 million Kelly painting. Nearby, Pace gallery sold the Turrell holograms.

First-time exhibitor Stefania Bortolami said the opening night resulted in sales of three new $50,000 abstract paintings by Richard Aldrich and one $300,000 striped canvas from 1973 by Daniel Buren.

“The first hour was extraordinary,” she said. “Some of the people who were here today have never been to my gallery. And now they might come by because we had a nice chat and they liked the work. That’s invaluable.”

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