Mention of a post on Hyperallergic brought back this N+1 essay on Steven Cohen and his firm’s idea of having a trading edge. That “edge” has now been indicted by the US Attorney. In his essay, Gary Sernovitz supposes that Cohen was savvy enough to buy artists and work that captured an artistic vision ahead of its time that could be considered its own, perhaps superior, “edge.”
But perhaps, as an ideal collector, he communes with Jasper Johns’s Flag, admiring the conceptual edge, that once shocking mixture of surface and paint and subject and no subject at all. Maybe he stands in front of his Woman III, worth all $137 million he paid for it, and thinks about edge in general. Artists—traders—the Art Collector himself—are faced with the efficient market, the weight of precedent, all that has been and is being done. Every day it gets worse. But the best of them, like de Kooning, are mercury, racing to be first to an edge before it disappears.
Which raises another question: by all accounts Steven Cohen has a preternatural sense as a stock trader. Does he also have an “edge” as a collector? After all, he now possesses what one market expert described as “the most comprehensive collection of American postwar images in private hands.”
It would certainly seem that Cohen has shown superior insight into art history. Except, what characterizes Cohen’s collection is a willingness to acquire the best works at any price. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what some have pointed out is that Cohen’s collection is curious devoid of “mistakes,” works that the collector bought with passion or madness or folly.
Cohen is also not known for taking risks on artists early in their career. When hedge fund managers first appeared as significant collectors in middle of the last decade, there was widespread concern that they would bring their high-frequency trading habits to the art market, churning sales for short-term return.
Cohen, however, has been anything but a flipper. He’s been the price-too-high buyer of numerous works, the long-term owner for whom the art is more valuable than the money.