SAC’s Cohen Shows Off $137 Million ‘Woman’ at Sotheby’s Exhibit

Hanging Heart (Violet/Gold), 2006, Jeff Koons. High Chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating 106 x 85 x 40 inches

Steven Cohen, who runs the $14 billion hedge-fund manager SAC Capital Advisors, is raising his profile as an art collector with an unusual loan show at Sotheby’s in New York.

Starting tomorrow, the auction house will display 20 rarely seen works by such artists as Andy Warhol and Vincent van Gogh. They have a combined market value of about $450 million, dealers say. The pieces, owned by Cohen and his wife, Alexandra, all depict women.

Auction houses often host special exhibitions to showcase sales in advance. In this case, Sotheby’s and Cohen say the show will offer nothing for sale, although it does coincide with Cohen’s increasingly close ties to the auctioneer.

As of March 6, SAC owned 5.9 percent of the company, up from 4.6 percent on Dec. 31, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Cohen, 52, has paid large sums as he built up a major art collection. He’s best known as the 2004 buyer of Damien Hirst’s $8 million formaldehyde-soaked shark, on loan to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

More recently, he snagged two pieces by Jeff Koons, including the shiny 9-foot-tall “Hanging Heart (Violet/Gold)” sculpture, according to people familiar with the transaction. Another heart from the same series fetched $23.6 million at Sotheby’s in 2007.

Last year, Cohen consigned at least eight paintings to New York dealers to sell, among them works by Willem de Kooning, Ed Ruscha and Pablo Picasso. He hoped to raise money for a major purchase that — as financial markets tumbled — he ultimately decided not to make, according to sources close to Cohen. They declined to disclose his target.

‘Business Prospects’

The Sotheby’s exhibition has provoked curiosity. “Cohen is doing what he can to improve business prospects at Sotheby’s,” said William N. Goetzmann, a former museum director and Yale School of Management professor. “He is improving the value of his art by showcasing it in a dramatic fashion.”

With the art market in a funk, Sotheby’s and Christie’s International are scrounging for goods to sell in the May auctions, auction house sources say.

Sotheby’s is publishing a 48-page hardbound illustrated color catalog, with an essay by art historian Joachim Pissarro. And it has allocated prime 10th-floor exhibition space to Cohen for a week-and-a-half, twice as long as the house ordinarily devotes to profit-making auction previews.

During the past decade, Cohen, based in Greenwich, Connecticut, has bought voraciously, acquiring through art adviser Sandy Heller and dealers including Gagosian Gallery, Acquavella Galleries and the firm Giraud Pissarro Segalot.

Eclectic Tastes

The Sotheby’s exhibition reveals Cohen as a man of eclectic tastes, who chased down a wide range of major artworks, buying at auction and from other collectors including Steve Wynn and David Geffen.

“It’s an opportunity to see works that everyone has been talking about and not a lot of people have seen,” said Tom L. Freudenheim, a former assistant secretary for museums at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

The show includes the 1952-53 de Kooning “Woman III,” acquired from Geffen for $137 million, as well as Cezanne’s dour 1900 “Portrait of a Woman,” which Cohen acquired for $10 million at Christie’s in 2004. Other auction booty includes Marlene Dumas’s 10-foot-wide “The Visitor,” purchased at Sotheby’s in London for a record $6.3 million last July.

Last summer, as Cohen prepared to make the mysterious major purchase, he approached Sotheby’s about selling a group of artworks in the November auctions — including a work by Koons and a painting by Maurice de Vlaminck — valued at around $100 million, according to dealers and auction-house sources. The group was ultimately not put up for sale.

The works he withdrew from sale at private galleries in Manhattan included Picasso’s “Homme a la Pipe,” insured for $20 million, and currently on view at Gagosian Gallery.

“The Cohens are continually refining their collection when the opportunity presents itself,” explained spokesman Jonathan Gasthalter.

Published in: on April 2, 2009 at 12:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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