Cohen Cashes Out on Kline

New York City -- Billionaire financier Steven A. Cohen is selling a 1958 Franz Kline painting valued at as much as $30 million during the semi-annual auctions of postwar and contemporary art in New York next month.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are eager to participate in next month's important art auctions

Christie’s said it will offer Kline’s Abstract Expressionist painting “King Oliver” at its evening sale on Nov. 12, with an estimate of $25 million to $30 million.

Cohen, age 58, who converted his hedge-fund firm SAC Capital Advisors LP into a family office this year to settle insider trading charges against the firm, is among prominent sellers seeking to take advantage of rising prices at the November auctions.

Artist Damien Hirst and British collector Frank Cohen are selling sculptures by Jeff Koons as buyers from China and other international markets compete for trophy art.

Chariot Sculpture

Contemporary art sales at public auctions totaled $1.9 billion in the 12 months through July 3, up 33 percent from the previous year, according to Paris-based arts data researcher Artprice.

Next month’s auctions include 10 artworks that together are expected to fetch almost $500 million. Alberto Giacometti’s chariot sculpture is estimated at more than $100 million at Sotheby’s, and a pair of Andy Warhol’s paintings of Elvis Presley and Marlon Brando that are expected to fetch $130 million at Christie’s.

“The growth we’ve seen in the contemporary art market in the past couple of years is unsustainable,” said Michael Plummer, a principal at New York-based consultant Artvest Partners. “People may feel we have reached the peak in prices. They want to take some of the chips off the table.”

Recent Addition

The Kline painting was a fairly recent addition to Cohen’s collection, which is known for masterpieces by Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning and Jasper Johns, according to the two people.

Cohen, whose net worth of $11 billion ranks him 105th on Bloomberg Billionaires Index, bought the painting for about $25 million in a private transaction about two years ago.

First shown at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York in 1958, the painting had been owned by collectors including French billionaire Francois Pinault.

Prices for Kline’s work surged at auction in 2012. A large untitled 1957 painting depicting black brush strokes colliding on a white background fetched $40.4 million at Christie’s. The price quadrupled the artist’s previous auction record of $9.3 million achieved just a day earlier at Sotheby’s.

Unlike these two black-and-white canvases, “King Oliver” is done “in clashing green, red and purples,” according to art historian David Anfam’s essay on the website of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Jazz Musician

The vertical canvas, more than 8 feet tall, had been exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea museum in Turin, Italy.

The title is an homage to Joe “King” Oliver, a jazz musician who became popular during the 1920s in Chicago and New Orleans, according to Christie’s.

“King Oliver is one of the most dramatic and achieved of Kline’s later color abstractions,” Anfam said in an e-mail about the artist, who died in 1962 at age 51. “Indeed, this latter part of Kline’s output is increasingly looking as though it is ripe for reconsideration.”

Cohen is a regular presence at auctions, buying, selling or just observing, according to dealers. Last November, he sold a group of paintings from his collection 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, exceeding the $20 million high estimate.

Liz Portrait

In 2011, Cohen consigned Andy Warhol’s 40-inch-square 1963 canvas “Liz #5” to Phillips. It fetched $26.9 million, falling within its estimate range of $20 million to $30 million.

Not all sales from Cohen’s collection 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 in New York.

Cohen’s family office, Point72 Asset Management LP, manages his personal wealth.

The former SAC Capital, whose assets peaked at about $16 billion, agreed in November to pay a record $1.8 billion and pleaded guilty to securities fraud to settle allegations of insider trading.

As part of the settlement, Cohen agreed to close SAC Capital and return client money.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video views some of the best works of Franz Kline.