When Geffen Sells—’He’s Almost Never Wrong’—Is That the Sign of a Top? 

Williem de Kooning, Woman III

What does it mean when David Geffen is selling art? The storied deal-maker is in his early 70s, but he’s sold art before. A lot of it, with really good market timing.

Before he sold it, though, he bought it. And few have bought as well as Geffen. In 2006, Paul Schimmel compared Geffen’s collection of Postwar works to Henry Clay Frick’s Old Masters.

There’s difference, however. Frick wasn’t a trader. Geffen is by nature and seems to have uncanny market sense.

In 2004, Geffen sold more than $65m in art—what many think was Johns’s best drawing O through 9,  De Kooning’s Clam Digger, Jackson Pollock’s No. 8, 1950 and Rauschenberg’s Winter Pool—at auction and privately just as the art market was re-awaken from a decade and a half of slumber.

In 2006, it was $420m for de Kooning’s Police Gazette and Woman III, Johns’s False Start, Pollock’s Number 5, 1948.

With last Fall’s sale to Griffin, Geffen has made a solid $1bn in sales from his collection. Remarkably, all the buyers have done well. None of Geffen’s works would trade a prices below the very rich valuations he sold them at. Nevertheless, that billion-dollar figure makes him one of the world’s most successful art dealers. But the extraordinary thing about Geffen is how concentrated the value has been.

Here’s the LA Times on Geffen’s collection from 2006:

“Most people in his position financially have much, much bigger collections,” said Richard Polsky, a Sausalito dealer […] Instead of building a larger art inventory such as those left behind by J. Paul Getty, Norton Simon and Armand Hammer, Polsky said, “Geffen took the high road and decided he didn’t need that much. I don’t know if he had an intuitive sense of quality, or he had good advice. But the guy bought the best. I’d rather have his collection than Eli Broad’s.”

Geffen’s eye is enough to have made him a legendary collector. Extremely strong in Pollock, de Kooning and Johns, Geffen applied his formidable deal-making skills to acquiring the most unobtainable works.

In 1994, Geffen arranged a swap with the Iranian government to provide them with a precious Persian manuscript in exchange for selling a de Kooning from the Tehran Museum’s legendary collection.

So what should we conclude from the news of his transaction with Griffin? If Geffen is selling, is that further confirmation that 2015 was a near-term market top?

In 2006, the LA Times asked Amy Cappellazzo about Geffen’s selling:

“He has impeccable timing,” Cappellazzo said, “and he’s almost never wrong.”

Geffen’s other dream works (latimes)