Arts: Billionaire plans to part with US$35m painting at Hong Kong’s Art Basel

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on March 20, 2018.

De Kooning’s Untitled XII. Photo by Bloomberg

Griffin bought a painting by De Kooning for US$300 million from Geffen in a private transaction, the most expensive artwork after Salvator Mundi seen here. Photo by Reuters

A filepic of Allen drinking champagne at an event. The billionaire bought De Kooning’s Untitled XII privately but declined to reveal the price. Photo by Reuters

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Billionaire Paul Allen plans to part with a trophy from his prized art collection.

A vibrant abstract painting by Willem de Kooning, Untitled XII, will be among the top highlights of Art Basel Hong Kong, an international fair opening next week.

At US$35 million (RM137.2 million), the canvas will be offered by Levy Gorvy Gallery.

Asian billionaires have been snapping up Western masterpieces at an accelerating pace.

China is the second-largest marketplace for art after the US, according to an annual art market report.

Collectors from Korea and China have purchased at least 10 major De Kooning paintings in the past decade, according to Brett Gorvy, the gallery’s co-founder and former chairman of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art.

Billionaire collectors such as Allen, co-founder of Microsoft Corp, often prune their art holdings to finance new purchases.

“This sale is part of normal course of business for a collector like Paul,” said Alexa Rudin, spokesman at Vulcan Inc, Allen’s family office that manages his business and charitable interests and whose staff includes 15 art experts.

The work is being sold through the Paul G Allen Family Collection, Rudin said.

Allen’s Gerhard Richter painting of a jet fetched US$25.6 million at auction in 2016, more than doubling since 2007.

His painting by Mark Rothko sold for US$56.2 million at Phillips in 2014 and a monumental Barnett Newman canvas went for US$43.8 million at Sotheby’s in 2013.


Important period

The De Kooning — a vortex of flesh-toned brushstrokes and irregular shapes accentuated with bubblegum pink and sky blue — was painted in 1975, the beginning of a two-year stretch considered among the most accomplished in the Abstract Expressionist artist’s life.

The six most expensive paintings by De Kooning at auction were created during this time, according to Artnet.

His auction record: US$66.3 million for a 1977 Untitled XXV sold at Christie’s in 2016.

The artist was in his 70s and newly in love with a much younger woman.

“I made those paintings, one after another, no trouble at all,” he would later recall, comparing himself to a man at a gambling table who “feels that he can’t lose”, according to an exhibition catalogue.

Allen bought the De Kooning privately in 2001, but declined to say how much he paid.

The painting once belonged to Aldo Gucci, a son of the luxury brand’s founder, and in 1987, it fetched US$517,000 at auction.

In 2000, another painting made in the same year and of the same size as Untitled XII fetched US$1.4 million at Sotheby’s, according to Artnet.


Private sale

Hedge fund manager Ken Griffin bought a painting by de Kooning for US$300 million from billionaire David Geffen in a private transaction, the most expensive artwork after Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi.

A couple of smaller de Kooning paintings will be offered during May auctions in New York, with each estimated at US$8 million to US$12 million: A 1976 Untitled XVIII from the estate of billionaire couple Joan and Preston Robert Tisch at Christie’s, and a 1978 Untitled VI sold by the Mandel Foundation at Sotheby’s. — Bloomberg