Helly Nahmad Returns to Art Basel With Judge’s Permission Bringing $50 Million Rothko

Jail time behind him, Nahmad is back in business.

Helly Nahmad in front of a Picasso painting. Photo: Helly Nahmad Gallery.
Helly Nahmad in front of a Picasso painting. Photo: Helly Nahmad Gallery.

Jailbird art dealer Helly Nahmad is back on the international art scene, following his conviction for his role in an illegal gambling ring worth $100 million.

After notably missing the festivities at Miami in December, Nahmad made his triumphant return to the Art Basel scene this week, joining such celebrities as Leonardo DiCaprio at the Swiss art fair, which has previously been frequented by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and Giacometti-obsessed hedge fund king, Steve Cohen.

DiCaprio was among the notable names allegedly involved in Nahmad’s gambling operation.

Helly Nahmad in front of a Picasso painting. Photo: Helly Nahmad Gallery.

Helly Nahmad in front of a Picasso painting.
Photo: Helly Nahmad Gallery.

Five months into his year-and-a-day prison sentence, Nahmad was released from jail and transferred to a halfway house. (Following his conviction, he had unsuccessfully petitioned the judge for a community service sentence in lieu of time behind bars.)

Nahmad remained under house arrest until last month, and still needed a judge’s permission to make the trip overseas, as he is currently under federal supervision.

“The Court’s permission extends only to the requested travel to Switzerland for business purposes,” wrote Judge Jesse Furman, as reported by the New York Post.

Mark Rothko, <em>Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange)</em>, 1955, sold for $36.5 million on an estimate of $20-30 million. Helly Nahmad is now offering it for $50 million. Photo: courtesy of Sotheby's.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange), 1955, sold for $36.5 million on an estimate of $20-30 million. Helly Nahmad is now offering it for $50 million.
Photo: courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Among the Basel offerings from Nahmad’s Upper East Side and London galleries is a $50 million Mark Rothko that reportedly would be the most expensive work at the fair, were it to sell. The painting, Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange), 1955, appears to be from the estate of Bunny Mellon, which fetched $36.5 million at Sotheby’s in November.

The gallery’s early sales include Jean Dubuffet‘s La Route du Pas–de-Calais (1963), which went for $6 million despite its bringing in only $577,595 at auction just a decade ago.

“People felt the young speculative artists were unsafe and that money has flooded into blue chips, into dead and late- and mid-career artists. People want safety,” Nahmad told the New York Times of the sale.

In that vein, Nahmad is also selling a Claude Monet water lily painting, sculptures by Alexander Calder, and a smaller version of Picasso’s 1954-1955 series, Les Femmes d’Alger. Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) recently set the record for the world’s most expensive painting at auction at Christie’s.

The two-foot-wide Les Femmes d’Alger (Version C), 28 Décembre, 1954, is available for a more modest $16 million.


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