Nate Freeman’s long tour of the transition at Christie’s from last season’s departure of Contemporary head Brett Gorvy to this season’s market-share dominating effort buries a big story from the year before.
In November of 2015, many observers were left scratching their heads over the one-bid sale of Roy Lichtenstein’s Nurse which recorded a $95m sale. Afterwards, Gorvy did his best to generate interest about the buyer.
Now Freeman has several sources with slightly conflicting versions of what took place:
Before the sale, Christie’s announced that Nurse had been guaranteed by a third-party backer, contrary to what was printed in the catalogue. […] According to multiple sources—including former Christie’s employees and dealers who work closely with the auction house—the buyer on the other end of the phone was, in fact, Christie’s owner François Pinault, who had placed an irrevocable bid on the lot as a third-party guarantor, mitigating the risk of the in-house guarantee. And thus, when the lot failed to find a buyer, Pinault purchased the work in a sequence of events that caused those with knowledge of the transaction to surmise that it was an effort to help Christie’s save face on a high-profile lot for which no other bidders had stepped up. “They got stuck with a $95 million painting on the books,” said a source familiar with the transaction. “They thought they would find a third party later.”
When I asked whether Pinault had purchased Nurse, Gorvy said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
Freeman’s version raises more questions than it answers. If Pinault was the guarantor, why would he have bid against himself? Is Freeman saying that Pinault placed an “irrevocable bid” which is not standard practice at Christie’s? Or is he saying that Pinault bought the Nurse by topping the guarantor?