The Sweet Smell of Art and Dollars

Hosted by

These have been heady days. And I'm not even talking about politics. Only a few weeks ago the art market reached a seemingly insane high with the sale by David Geffen of two post-World War II paintings: the de Kooning for $63.5 million and the Jasper Johns for $80 million. But if you think that that's a lot of dough, how about the $140 million that Mexican financier David Martinez handed to David Geffen for an iconic drip-painting by Jackson Pollock, the costliest art sale ever made. So, let's do the numbers. In one month Mr. Geffen sold three paintings from his collection for $283.5 million. Considering that his net worth is estimated to be $4.6 billion and his passion for art collecting has never been in doubt, the question arises: why is he parting with such stellar examples from his collection?

There have been a lot of rumors about his interest in acquiring the Los Angeles Times, whose revenue and readership is significantly down. There is a belief that Mr. Geffen intends to improve and expand the art coverage which definitely would be a much welcome development. In last week's business sections of both the LA Times and the New York Times, one can read about two other potential buyers for our city newspaper: Eli Broad and Ron Burkle, billionaires, philanthropists and friends. However, unlike Mr. Geffen, they have made a bid to purchase the whole Tribune Company, which owns along with the LA Times dozens of other newspapers, TV stations and even the Chicago Cubs baseball team. One only hopes that ownership of our hometown newspaper will return to LA and that its quality and much criticized appearance will only improve.

And now I feel obliged to return to the subject of money. Last week, Christie's sale of Impressionist and Modern Art raked in a record almost half a billion dollars. And no, Ronald Lauder did not buy any of the remaining four paintings by Klimt as was widely hoped. You might remember that a few months ago he acquired the best of them, the golden portrait of Adele, for $135 million. This time, Mr. Lauder bought for a pittance, a mere $38 million, an extremely rare canvas by German expressionist, Ernst Kirchner. Until recently this painting belonged to the state owned Belvedere Gallery in Vienna, the same gallery that claimed ownership of the five Klimt paintings. But once again, in another story of restitution, the Austrian court ordered the return of this work to its rightful heirs, descendents of the original owners.

But my favorite story of the week is this. Retired truck driver, Teri Horton, a raspy voiced woman, who spices up her talk with unprintable words, has struck gold. In the early 1990's, while rummaging through garage sales and thrift shops in the Los Angeles area, she bought for five bucks a large painting that some experts think could be a genuine Jackson Pollock. When she bought it she didn't know Pollock from Adam. After a fifteen-year battle with the art world this tenacious lady, with the help of a forensic scientist, found a fingerprint on the back of the canvas that matches one on a can of paint from Pollock's studio. She has already declined an offer of $9 million from a Saudi Arabian collector and is quoted in the New York Times as not willing to sell it for less than $50 million. Her story is the subject of a soon-to-be-released documentary. Oh, the sweet smell of success and dollars...