Is Stefan Simchowitz a Blessing or a Nightmare?

In the art world, his name triggers a visceral reaction—people either love him or hate him, his boisterous, crass, and overly arrogant personality leave few feelings in between. Art flipper, collector, adviser, and new kind of talent agent Stefan Simchowitz is here to make his own rules and interrupt the system.

Born in Johannesburg, Simchowitz is the son of a South African industrialist. He dabbled unsuccessfully in Hollywood as a producer, his best known film was Requiem for a Dream, but he later built and sold his celebrity photo service to Getty Images in which he claims he only netted 2 percent of the $200 million price tag, according to a recent in-depth profile by Christopher Glazek that ran in the New York Times Magazine.

When Simchowitz shifted his focus to contemporary art, he wasn’t interested in second tier art by first rate artists, he wanted to dive head first into collecting emerging artists. Since 2007 he has sponsored and promoted about two dozen artists. His own collection has amassed to roughly 1,500 pieces worth $30 million, including works by Oscar Murillo and Sterling Ruby. But what is the method to his madness? According to Glazek, he is a bully—a slithering, authoritative, yet sometimes insightful one. As Jerry Saltz once said, he does have a knack for hype. Of course, having a deep-pocketed client list including Harvey Weinstein, Sean Parker, and Orlando Bloom also helps in getting penniless artists to sell their work to you.

But having Simchowitz as a patron could be a good or bad thing for emerging artists. From one angle he aims to support the artists by paying for their studios, materials, and living expenses, but on the other hand, the investment doesn’t happen without expected returns. Simchowitz has nurtured artists whose career trajectories are going north, such as Petra Cortright, but the trouble surfaces when artists get too big too fast—for example, Parker Ito. Simchowitz was one of his early supporters but Ito’s market value has steadily declined from a high sale of $87,500 in July to paintings being bought in or sold for an average of about $30,000 in subsequent auctions—a bad omen for any emerging artist.

The underlying agenda seems to be financial gain. He is a predator known for purchasing enormous amounts of an artist’s work that he believes will turn a profit and we’re guessing he won’t have any problem dumping it if the opposite reaction comes to bear. Some galleries have blacklisted Simchowitz, and it is known that he employs consultants to snatch up works that have been denied to him. He’s known for discussing the young artists he works with in a crass, money-centered way as well as for his egotism (“A lot of it is instinct, and it’s difficult to explain, to be honest with you,” Simchowitz told Artspace in an interview. “I can just feel it. When I saw Oscar Murillo’s work it was immediate. No one else saw it at the beginning. I can’t explain it.”) But what rubs people the wrong way, perhaps most of all, is the purely market, trend, and profit approach he so openly embraces.

What do you think? Is Stefan Simchowitz a blessing or a nightmare?

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