Bloomberg’s Lindsay Pollock does a little sleuthing on Ezra Merkin’s collection of Rothkos which their art adviser seems to be hawking. The value of the collection is $150-$200 million.
Recently, Sotheby’s CEO Bill Ruprecht mentioned that he’d been fielding phone calls from prominent Madoff victims eager to access liquidity from their art. Old art world hands will remind you that the biggest problem the market faces in bad economic times is not a lack of demand but a limit on the supply. When times are bad only distressed sellers are willing to part with their cherished works, especially works so recently acquired as is the case with the Merkin Rothkos.
If Merkin is in the mood to sell, and it should be stressed that the story is more about the art adviser than the owner, it will be the first major sale provoked by Madoff’s fraud:
The Merkin’s collection was assembled between 2003 and 2008. Seven came directly from the artist’s estate and heirs, according to Heller. New York’s PaceWildenstein gallery represents the Rothko estate. Arne Glimcher, the gallery’s founder and director, declined to comment.
“If you go up to that apartment, you would drop your socks,” said Heller, who assisted the Merkins in creating an environment to complement the Rothkos, with subdued rugs, furnishings and dim lighting. “It’s much closer to a chapel.”
Heller also bought on behalf of the Merkins at auction, procuring Rothko’s radiant royal blue 1968 oil on paper mounted on canvas for $7.9 million at Sotheby’s in New York on Nov. 14, nearly double the $4.5 million high estimate. [ . . . ]
Heller, an early Rothko friend and collector, came up with the idea to amass the Rothkos.
“It was my conception,” said Heller, who guided the Merkins in their art education. “I helped them learn about art and culture.” [ . . . ]
“The impact is overwhelming,” said London-based critic and Rothko authority David Anfam, who has visited the home that Merkin shares with his wife, Lauren. “Many of them are large and it achieves exactly what Rothko wanted, which was to defeat the wall. The paintings at the Merkins’ make the walls dissolve. They become the environment.”
Other art world figures have trekked to the apartment, including Museum of Modern Art chief curator Ann Tempkin and Sotheby’s contemporary art honcho Tobias Meyer.