Cohen Consigns Top Dubuffet

NEW YORK CITY -- Billionaire money manager Steven A. Cohen is selling a dense, vibrant 1961 Jean Dubuffet painting valued at $25 million.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network know that this one Dubuffet to own!

Christie’s said it will offer Dubuffet’s “Paris Polka” at a special evening auction, “Looking Forward to the Past,” on May 11. The estimate exceeds the late French artist’s auction record of $7.4 million set in November.

The postwar and contemporary art auctions in New York in May are shaping up to produce record prices. Christie’s is also offering Pablo Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘‘O’’)” for $140 million. A Francis Bacon triptych is the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, fetching $142.4 million at Christie’s in 2013.

Global sales of art and antiques hit a record 51.2 billion euros ($56 billion) in 2014, up 7 percent from the previous year, as collectors drove up prices for trophy works by modern, postwar and contemporary artists, according to an annual report published in March by the European Fine Art Foundation.

Entire Century

“There’s a premium for the best of the best,” said Loic Gouzer, a Christie’s specialist for postwar and contemporary art who came up with the idea of masterpiece-studded auction that spans the entire 20th century instead of focusing on individual categories.

The auction house said it has guaranteed the seller an undisclosed minimum price regardless of whether or not the work sells.

Cohen converted his hedge-fund firm SAC Capital Advisors into a family office called Point72 Asset Management after settling insider-trading charges against the firm in 2013.

Cohen, whose net worth of $11 billion ranks him 112th on Bloomberg Billionaires Index, is based in Stamford, Connecticut. He’s also known as an active art trader, frequently buying and selling at auctions, dealers said.

In November, he sold a 1958 Franz Kline painting, “King Oliver” for $26.4 million at Christie’s. That same month he was the buyer at Sotheby’s of Alberto Giacometti’s $101 million painted sculpture of an elongated goddess standing on a chariot, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Richter, Picasso

In 2013, he sold a group of paintings for at least $77 million at Sotheby’s. The priciest was Gerhard Richter’s 1986 abstract painting “A.B. Courbet,” which fetched $26.5 million.

In 2012, Cohen bought Picasso’s “Le Reve” for $150 million in a private transaction from casino owner Steve Wynn. In 2011, Cohen consigned Andy Warhol’s 40-inch-square 1963 canvas “Liz #5” to Phillips. It sold for $26.9 million.

Not all of Cohen’s sales have been successful. In 2012, his 1983 painting by Richter, estimated at $9 million to $12 million, failed to reach its undisclosed reserve price at Christie’s.

Unusually Cheerful

“Paris Polka” is an unusually cheerful example by Dubuffet (1901-1985), who is better known for his raw, expressionistic canvases, earthy palette and haunting stick figures. The work is part of the “Paris Circus” paintings and drawings he created when he returned to the city after several years in the countryside.

“He is a man in love with Paris, modernity, youth,” said Brett Gorvy, Christie’s chairman and international head of postwar and contemporary art. Gorvey declined to comment on the seller.
The pink, red, blue and green composition -- at more than 6-feet-tall and 7-feet-wide -- is densely filled with buildings, cars and human figures.

“They are all pressed into this veil of confetti,” said Arne Glimcher, chairman of New York-based Pace Gallery, with branches in London, Hong Kong and Beijing, that represents the Dubuffet estate. “It’s one of Dubuffet’s great paintings.”

The seller bought it from literary agent Morton Janklow, Christie’s said.

Auction Record

Dubuffet’s auction record was set in November at Sotheby’s for the 1963 “Cite Fantoche,” according to auction price database Artnet. A small Dubuffet painting from the “Paris Circus” series sold privately for $15 million in the past six months, but not at Christie’s, the auction house said. Another $12 million private sale took place within the past year, Glimcher said. “It’s not necessarily the greatest cycle of his work, but it’s the most popular,” Glimcher said about the “Paris Circus” group.

Christie’s considers Dubuffet one of the most undervalued postwar artists, Gorvy said. “Paris Polka” is among the four largest works in the series, and the other three are in museums, the auction house said.

At recent auctions, Dubuffet’s works have attracted bidders from Asia and the Middle East as well as more traditional markets in Europe and the U.S.

Dubuffet’s elation over Paris was short-lived. “It lasts for about a year and a half,” Gorvy said. “Then he goes back to darker colors.”

Today's homepage Featured Art Video provides a brief retrospective of some masterpieces by Jean Dubuffet.