The Telegraph‘s Colin Gleadell asks what Steven Cohen’s motives are in displaying a portion of his art collection at Sotheby’s:
It is the first public glimpse into the largely unknown holdings of a secretive, very rich art lover who has been one of the most potent forces in the art market for a decade. Naturally the show has aroused intense curiosity about how much the works cost, where they had come from, and what Cohen’s motives were for exhibiting them. [ . . . ]
But is the exhibition just a vain attempt to stimulate the market by reliving the art boom in the run-up to the all-important May sales in New York?
Certainly, it is effective PR for both Sotheby’s and Cohen. But, as a show which is as inescapably about money as it is about art, it may fall between two stools. In his scathing Channel 4 programme The Mona Lisa Curse last year, Robert Hughes argued that successive art booms had made it difficult to look at art without thinking about how much it was worth. Now we are officially in a recession, the issue for those who are concerned about such things is to wonder how much less that art might now be worth.
Of course, these are the questions that have pre-occupied many since the exhibit was announced in the New York Times. But one of the central points about Cohen the art collector–hinted at by Gleadell–is his secretive nature. Before Cohen gained a public status as a famous art collector, he was as a famously dark character in the financial markets. Paying top dollar for the world’s best collection of art has put a more benign cast to his name without forcing him to be any more open with publicity or public appearances. If viewers focus on the price of the paintings, they’re missing the value of the whole collection to Cohen.
This is even more pronounced when much of the financial world has been aware of Cohen’s SAC having gone to cash before the Lehman Brothers collapse and the market’s wipeout.