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Leonid Bershidsky

How Austria Lost Out on a Great Art Deal

Austria passed on what could have been a valuable deal: the acquisition of a hardware dealer's contemporary art collection.
Not Gerhard Richter's time.
Not Gerhard Richter's time.

On Monday, the biggest-ever auction of a private contemporary art collection proved one European government to be nearsighted, to put it mildly. It also showed that in the art market, even experts are often unable to predict a painting's price.

The auction at Christie's in London, kicking off the Frieze Art Fair, sold 44 works that were the cream of the 7,000-piece collection assembled by Austrian businessman Karlheinz Essl and his wife, Agnes. The Essl collection has a romantic and tumultuous history, starting with the couple's first meeting in New York City, where Agnes worked in an art gallery, and ending with business problems that put the collection in jeopardy.