Olyvia Kwok got a bit of unwanted publicity recently when it was revealed that Sotheby’s had gotten its lawyers involved to be sure she paid for two works (a Basquiat and a Twombly) she won at auction but now says her client no longer wants. It would seem that Kwok decided that the best remedy for bad publicity would be more publicity. So she sat down for an “at home” with the Evening Standard:
“Sometimes I look at artists like a commodity balance sheet,” she tells me openly, stretched on a sofa in the basement of her tasteful Knightsbridge townhouse when we met earlier this week. A Georg Baselitz, a Wade Guyton and a Marc Quinn hang on the walls, markers of her taste.
“You can talk to Russians, Chinese, South Americans and ask, ‘Who do you know in the contemporary world?’,” she observes. “I promise you Basquiat is one of the top three names that will come up. They might know Damien Hirst, Basquiat and they will know Warhol.”
As for the Basquiat and the Twombly, Kwok has a plan. “I got the Basquiat for $4 million. It is now insured for $12 million. We are going to place the painting in a museum so it will have a better provenance, because everyone likes things with more academic value. Once placed we will talk to Basquiat experts, find out some more information, someone will write about it, and we will put it back on the market for different collectors.” And now if any Basquiat collector wants it, they know where to come looking, I suggest? Kwok creases up. Maybe the publicity wasn’t such a bad thing after all, she concedes.
During the conversation she mentions she has been at Sotheby’s that morning — a way of saying she is still welcome there — and sold a canvas. It was a Warhol. “I bought a portrait of his in 2007. It was quite new in that market then, I didn’t know better. I believed a dealer and paid $300,000, maybe $350,000. I have been trying to sell it for ever and I just couldn’t. The rest of my knowledge picked up in the field over the years and then I realised — ‘Jeez, this is a horrible thing I bought’.
“I think I made 20 per cent of what I paid for it,” she says, half-grinning. It sold for around £70,000. “But I was just happy to get rid of it. It was in the day sale, it didn’t even make the evening sale. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses.”