Tuesday, January 18

A Picasso art dealer on how to build an artists’ market


Acquavella Galleries’ current display of very high-quality, rarely seen drawings by Pablo Picasso has become a must-see for the New York art world. Bloomberg Pursuits spoke with gallery president Bill Acquavella, 84, about the Picasso market, the state of the art in trophies, and Lucian Freud’s gambling debts. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. Picasso: seven decades of drawing runs until December 3

First, congratulations on the show.

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I have seven decades of his work: 86 pieces, starting from pre-cubism, even before. The Met loaned us a job, the MoMA, Art Institute of Chicago. We borrow from museums, but 90% come from private collections, which means that most people have never seen the work.

You’ve been selling Picasso almost as long as Picasso was making them.

Your market has almost become a brand. You don’t need to explain to a new collector who Picasso is. You may have to explain who Kandinsky is, who is Mondrian or Pollock. But you don’t have to explain Picasso.

The world mostly learns about the art market through auction results. Are you familiar with recent major transactions that occurred privately?

People do not realize it, but in private many masterpieces change hands, there is no doubt. But the auctions have the same amount, probably more now, because there aren’t many dealers dealing with these things right now. So most of it goes up for auction.

Why have dealers abandoned the market for masterpieces?

It’s hard to find and hard to come by, it’s very capital intensive, you just don’t have a lot of work available. We have something. Because there is more water going through fewer pipes, not many of us do. So I have a chance to get them from time to time.

But hasn’t the market always required a lot of capital? It’s famous that you entered into a $ 150 million deal with Sotheby’s in 1990 to buy the inventory of the late art dealer Pierre Matisse, which you later sold for $ 300 million.

It was so capital intensive. I went to Sotheby’s, to [then-owner] Al Taubman, and I said, let’s buy this together, because I have no money. More than not having the money, he did not have the administrative office to handle more than 4,000 items. So I convinced him to do it, they sold commercial paper and we raised the money. Most of the sales from that collection went to Japan. And the United States, but a lot went to Japan, it was an exciting time.

Let’s talk about the Macklowe collection, which goes on sale at Sotheby’s on Monday.

I bet Rothko could bring in $ 100 million. Think of it this way: you can remake the money but you can’t remake the image, okay? Any of these things, if someone is a true collector and wants a Twombly then they have to buy this one, because they are not going to find another one very easily.

Sure, but it’s pretty meager once you hit the $ 50 million paintings.

For you or me, maybe, it’s the money, but for the big collectors who can afford it, these sales are all opportunities. It doesn’t matter so much what the price is. I mean yes, but if you are really interested in creating a great collection for yourself, go for it.

Talk about a great barrier to entry, if that’s the price of an “excellent” collection.

Art is not for everyone, okay? You have to be able to afford art. It makes no sense to say that you are going to build a collection if you don’t have money. Well, if you are a true collector, you can build a collection without money, but it may not be the paintings we are talking about.

Meanwhile, the market for some of the most important artists of the 20th century seems a bit lackluster.

Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, it is true, have slowed down. But the reason is mainly that there is no availability and you cannot build a market. A new client arrives and wants to decorate a house and build a collection; he does not want to buy a painting a year. You have to go where you can at least find things. Emerging artists are a great area to collect because you can buy one image a day.

Can you give me an example of markets that have submerged?

Odilon Redon is one. A very good artist who was quite popular in the 1970s and 1980s; now there is no interest in him, although he is a wonderful artist. If a great one comes up, it will probably bring money. And all those colored field painters from the 1960s, they were the best you could buy. Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski. After that, the fashion for them went away. They were good artists and now they are coming back. I have always believed that the artist has to contribute to the development of art history to really have a staying power. Some of those artists contributed and now they are coming back.

They and everyone else. Have you ever thought that prices have become unsustainably high?

Is it the art going up or is it the money going down? You can also see it that way. Look at what other things cost: look at what people pay for vacation homes or what they pay for planes and cars. Saw a guy driving a Bugatti. I asked my son, how much is that? And he said “$ 2.6 million”. Are you kidding? If people want to spend their money, there are a million ways to do it. When I started with Lucian Freud in 1992, his great photographs cost $ 600,000. When he died in 2011, those same images were generating $ 30 million each.

Is it true that when you hired him you had something like $ 5 million in gambling debt?

It was £ 2.7 million in gambling debt. He didn’t even tell me. We never signed anything, we just shook hands. I said, “Let’s try it for two years. I’ll buy everything you do for those two years, if it works for you, if it works for me, we’ll move on. “And then when I started working with him, he said,” Well, I owe him this. “What I did was make Lucian did a portrait of the bookmaker’s two sons, and that reduced the swelling a bit.

A bargain for the bookie, in hindsight.

He kissed with incredible treatment.

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