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  1. Wealth
August 7, 2013

So who will buy Detroit’s paintings?

By Spear's

Potential purchasers include Arab kings, American financiers and Asian entrepreneurs

With the news that the vultures – sorry, Christie’s – have been hired to pick clean – sorry, appraise and probably sell off – the treasures from the world-class Detroit Institute of Arts collection comes the question of who will buy these magnificent pictures, which include a van Gogh self-portrait and a Tintoretto ceiling. Below are my best guesses.

The New Yorker’s art critic has suggested the works ‘would pass into private hands at relatively fire-sale prices’ because of the glut, but I disagree: it would be the sale of the century and bidding would be intense. The supply of fine Old Masters and Imp & Mod pieces is drying up, so rare masterpieces would bring out collectors in force, setting aside reasonable limits this one time (again).

Pictured above: van Gogh’s Bank of the Oise at Auvers at the DIA.

Here are some potential purchasers:

1) The Qataris

Thanks to its natural gas, Qatar has dumbly been dubbed ‘the world’s richest nation’ by Forbes for its GDP per capita – $88,000 when they crowned it, now $106,000 – as if this wealth is in fact spread per capita. (Britain’s is $39,000, for comparison.)

If we’re going by money the country actually has to spend, Qatar is twelfth, with $115 billion in its sovereign wealth fund. (Norway is first, with nearly $740 billion, considerably more.) The personal wealth of its new ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, is unclear.

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The Qataris have shown an almost limitless appetite for art, reputedly paying the highest-ever price for one piece: $250 million for Cézanne’s Card Players. The sheikh’s sister, Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, has led the spree.

Per The Art Newspaper, purchases include: $310 million on some Rothkos, $400 million on Ileana Sonnabend’s estate, $63 million on a Warhol and $73 million on the ‘Rockefeller’ Rothko.

2) A North American financier

Several of the most expensive paintings have been sold to North American businessmen who have made money out of money:

> Leon Black (pictured below) apparently bought The Scream for $120 million (yuck!) last year;

> David Martinez paid $140 million for Jackson Pollock’s No 5, 1948 in 2006;

> and Steven Cohen bought de Kooning’s Woman III for $137.5 million in 2006 and Picasso’s La Rêve for $150 million in 2012. (All were sold privately except for The Scream.)

What’s worth noting is that the recession stands between these purchases: people with cash to blow in 2006 may no longer have dollars to hand. And Steven Cohen is currently being pursued by the US government over insider trading, so he may not be splashing out. (The Picasso news broke after he settled a case with the Securities and Exchange Commission, but was conducted before.)

Warren Buffet ($54 billion), Carl Icahn ($20 billion) and George Soros ($19 billion) all fit this profile, but none have strong records of buying first-rate art. Ronald Perelman ($12 billion) has fallen out with Larry Gagosian, so may have been put off paintings…

3) The Getty Museum

Most museums are strapped for cash, certainly in Europe, but the Getty Museum in LA gushes cash like its founder’s wells did oil: its endowment was $5.6 billion in 2012. For comparison, the National Gallery has an acquisitions budget of $376 million.

It has recently bought a Rembrandt self-portrait (undisclosed tens of million) and a $45 million Turner (almost blocked from being exported from the UK).

4) An Asian entrepreneur

Given the rise of the Asian private museum, built and stocked by newly-wealthy entrepreneurs who want to display their taste/money, it is possible that Western treasures might head East. Wealth turnover in China is rapid, however, so they may choose to save their money lest the government make it disappear tomorrow.

If they do want to spend, here are some to consider:

‘There are museums and galleries hosting private collections open to the public, like Budi Tek’s Yaz Museum in Jakarta or Dai Zhi Kang’s Himalayas Art Museum in Shanghai (which you approach through a mall) or Li Bing’s He Jing Yuan Art Museum in Beijing.

Pictured above: Budi Tek

‘Further afield are David Walsh’s MONA in Tasmania and Judith Neilson’s White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney. Some of these are owned by corporations, like Korea’s Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art or the Minsheng Art Museum, soon to open in Beijing and funded by the China Minsheng Banking Corporation.’

Read more from Spear’s on art

Read more from Wealth Wednesday



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