Monday, May 16, 2016

A Collector’s-Eye View of the Auctions

The art collector Adam Lindemann. Credit Ungano + Agriodimas
Twenty-four hours after Adam Lindemann sold a Jean-Michel Basquiat at Christie’s for $57.3 million — an auction record for the artist — he found himself in the role of bidder as selling began for a 1942 Calder standing mobile at Sotheby’s last Wednesday night. He thought the $3 million to $4 million estimate was too low, that the piece was worth $10 million, given that it had once been owned by Alfred H. Barr, founder of the Museum of Modern Art.
Mr. Lindemann, 54, an established collector and dealer, jumped into the bidding himself, but dropped out before the piece ultimately sold for $8.3 million with fees.
“Had I pushed it, it would have gone to 10,” he said later. “It wasn’t destined to come to me. Sometimes when you bid, you’re not going to get it — you just know. It was an amazing purchase for someone to own and to keep for a decade. It was not necessarily the right purchase for someone like me.”
Mr. Lindemann, a regular in the New York auction rooms, agreed to share his impressions of the spring sales in real time with a reporter. As both a buyer and a seller, he was active last week, offering an up-close view of the negotiations that go into each sale.
Why didn’t he buy the Calder? He wouldn’t divulge his final bid, but indicated that it wasn’t a work he would want to sit on until it appreciated enough to resell. Given his legal and business expertise (he has a degree from Yale Law School and used to run his own investment firm), he has established himself as a knowledgeable insider, and buys for both love and value, tending to spend in the $20 million-and-under range. Before selling the Basquiat he bought an Uli figure from Papua New Guinea, the cover lot at Sotheby’s African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art sale, for $4.7 million.
Loic Gouzer of Christie’s with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Untitled,” which sold for $57.3 million last week, an auction record for the artist. Credit Kena Betancur/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
“He’s part of the trade,” said Brett Gorvy, Christie’s worldwide chairman of postwar and contemporary art. “He’s been a collector and a dealmaker for most of his career, he knows all the ins and outs of what actually happens in an auction room. He’s used to selling and trading up. That gives him a different kind of mentality. You have to have a certain ability to detach yourself from objects.”
Mr. Lindemann’s decision to sell the Basquiat was therefore carefully considered. Given the uncertainty in the market, it could have seemed like a risky time to sell one of the most valuable pieces in his collection. But Christie’s had a buyer who had committed to paying at least $40 million for the piece. And Mr. Lindemann said the moment was actually opportune, given the lack of competition from other major consignments.
“If it were a regular bullish sale in 2014, we would have been fighting a Rothko or a Picasso and a $50 million balloon dog,” he said, referring to a Jeff Koons sculpture. “The question is, do you want to be the lead in a smaller movie or do you want to be in a film with Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio?
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“If you know that you can deliver,” he said, “you do the smaller movie, where you’re the lead and the movie is about you.”
Mr. Lindemann had sold major works before; for example, Mr. Koons’s bright red “Hanging Heart (Magenta/Gold)” at Sotheby’s in 2007 for $23.5 million. But the Basquiat — sold to the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa — was a prize that auction houses had been trying to wrest away from him since he bought the painting for $4.5 million in 2004.
“Almost every six months or every year, I would put forward an offer,” Mr. Gorvy said. “Each time it was someone who was looking for a masterpiece. He was willing to listen, but he always had a firm number in his head, and that number was 50.”
Mr. Lindemann, who comes from wealth — Forbes puts his family’s net worth at $2.9 billion — has collected for about 20 years and showcases art through two galleries: Venus Over Manhattan, which opened in 2012, and Venus Over Los Angeles, which opened in 2015. Mr. Lindemann’s exhibitions tend to be deliberately untraditional, like his current show of Warhol’s “Little Electric Chairs.”
He is married to an art dealer, Amalia Dayan, and the two live in a Brutalist Upper East Side townhouse designed by the architect David Adjaye. Last year Mr. Lindemann bought Andy Warhol’s former oceanfront compound in Montauk.
He started his galleries as a way to showcase artists who he believes have not received the attention they deserve, like William Copley, Bernard Buffet, Jack Goldstein and H. C. Westermann. “There’s plenty of good galleries in New York and plenty that are better than mine,” he said, adding that he aims “to revisit artists who are out of favor, to look at historic work in a new way.”

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Mr. Gorvy said: “The fact that he likes Westermann kind of tells it all — a highly quirky, highly respected artist among a niche group of collectors — someone who is really anti-commercial in a certain way. That’s the kind of thing Adam pursues.”
During Sotheby’s contemporary auction last week, Mr. Lindemann — who has a round face and bright blue eyes — was a font of caustic commentary. Elaine Sturtevant’s “Warhol Marilyn,” he said, which went for $490,000 on an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000, was “a cheap way to buy something you can’t afford.” (Sturtevant made close but inexact versions of other artists’ works.) And the bidding on an untitled Rudolf Stingel canvas from 2007 — estimated at $1.5 million to $2 million — was “insane” in his opinion.
But behind his desk in his Madison Avenue gallery the following day, Mr. Lindemann commended the sale. “It was a solid 10,” he said. “Everyone in the room felt good.”
Sotheby’s had selected items that it knew it could sell, he said — “artists who continue to make the same kind of things, like Christopher Wool, Robert Ryman, Rudolf Stingel and Agnes Martin.”
“This market wants what’s identifiable,” Mr. Lindemann said. “This market wants security, because this market is nervous.”
He also made a point of noting who the auction houses are not selling, suggesting that certain artists are currently out of favor. “Why are there no Damien Hirsts in the evening sale anymore? Where are they?” he said. “Where are the Wade Guytons?”
In his view, estimates placed on works by auction houses are too often mistaken for actual value, when they are simply the result of deals between auction houses and sellers: The prices represent how much the auction house is willing to commit to a seller and what that seller is willing to accept.
“You have to appreciate the views of the consignor and the agenda of the auction house,” Mr. Lindemann said. “People think the estimate represents the value. And often it doesn’t.”
He believes that putting more than 20 Calders up for sale this season among the three main auction houses was a mistake, glutting the market, even though Calders generally do well and brought solid prices this time around. And he said that while an auction can seem ”inappropriately decadent,” given “all these numbers being thrown around,” if it were real estate, “no one would have a problem with it.”
“In a way,” he added, “many pictures today are worth as much or more than anybody’s home.”

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