Embattled Casino Mogul Steve Wynn Plans to Relaunch His Career as an Art Dealer
The billionaire has already sold a Warhol and bought a record-setting Monet for his new company—and set up a nontraditional website.
Steve Wynn, the embattled casino mogul who stepped down as chairman and chief executive of Wynn Resorts in February, is apparently already planning to reinvent himself—as an art dealer.
The billionaire has launched an online art gallery called Sierra Fine Art LLC where he is advertising multimillion-dollar works by Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse for sale. Wynn’s lawyer Michael Kosnitzky told artnet News that the billionaire has already transferred a “meaningful” amount of his fabled art collection into the business to begin his new chapter.
Wynn resigned from the publicly traded casino company he founded more than 15 years ago after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct and assault. He has denied the allegations.
Since his departure from the company, 76-year-old Wynn “has decided to do something in a businesslike way that would keep him active,” said Kosnitzky, a partner in the private client group at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. “He plans to travel around the world to locate art of significance and use his vast experience and knowledge to sell it to others.”
Wynn has been developing the business in “consultation” with his longtime art dealer Bill Acquavella, Kosnitzky said. The mogul is “contemplating” setting up a brick-and-mortar space in the future once he decides where he will reside permanently in the wake of his departure from his company. But he is convinced of the long-term prospects of online sales, Kosnitzky added, and believes a storefront is “unnecessary to his business model.”
Apparently, that business has already begun. We understand that Wynn’s new company, Sierra Fine Art LLC, was the buyer of Monet’s Nymphéas en fleur (ca. 1914–17), which sold for $84.7 million at Christie’s sale of the Rockefeller Collection last week. The work set a new record for the artist at auction—and will soon be available for resale. (Kosnitzky declined to confirm the purchase.)
Considering Wynn’s long career as a collector, his foray into the sales side of the industry is decidedly nontraditional. While many dealers are loath to reveal their top inventory publicly for fear of “burning” the work (art-market parlance for overexposing it and therefore damaging its prospects for sale), he has posted digital images of his pricey holdings directly on the company’s new website.
Furthermore, online art sales are not often associated with the very top of the market, where a small number of players compete for the same works. Kosnitzky said the website was “a way to show the world what he has to offer,” but that Wynn is “not interested in broad-brush client engagement.” He will work “at the highest end of the market” with only the “most sophisticated” buyers.
Many of the works listed on the site have popped up at auction in recent years, including Henri Matisse’s Botero Violet (1937), which sold at Sotheby’s in 2014 for $14.9 million, and Andy Warhol’s Superman (1981), sold at Sotheby’s in 2015 for $14.4 million.
Several other high-profile listed works by Picasso and Warhol were due to be sold at Christie’s this week as part of the kickoff of his new art venture. (Kosnitzky told artnet News that the works had been consigned by Sierra Fine Art rather than by the collector himself.) All told, the canvases were expected to bring in more than $130 million.
It is unclear exactly how selling high-priced artwork anonymously at auction would establish Wynn’s new course as an art dealer. Although artnet News first reported Wynn’s consignments in April, Christie’s has not identified Wynn or Sierra Fine Art LLC as the seller of the works. Kosnitzky said the Christie’s sale represented the “start of the process” but declined to elaborate.
Wynn’s plan for his new business’s maiden voyage hit a snag, however, when the most valuable of the three works—Le Marin (1943), a self-portrait by Picasso—was damaged at Christie’s Rockefeller Center headquarters ahead of the planned sale on May 15.
According to Bloomberg, which first reported the news of Wynn’s new venture, a paint roller attached to an extension pole fell and punctured the canvas. The painting was withdrawn two days before it was scheduled to be sold. (In a statement, the auction house said the damage occurred “during the final stages of preparation” and that it has already consulted two conservators about its repair.)
Soon after, another Picasso owned by Wynn, Femme au chat assise dans un fauteuil (1964), also listed on the Sierra Fine Art website, was withdrawn because it was covered by the same third-party guarantee, according to Bloomberg. Kosnitzky said he hopes the dispute will be “resolved amicably” but that the auction house and collector are currently at odds over the value of the painting and the cost of the damage.Wynn’s third painting, Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis (1963), was sold as scheduled on Thursday night. Brett Gorvy, a former Christie’s executive and co-founder of Lévy Gorvy Gallery, placed the winning bid for $37 million.
According to online records, Wynn’s art website was created just under two months ago, on March 21, six weeks after the mogul resigned from his company amid the sexual misconduct allegations. Asked if there was concern that the scandal might tarnish Wynn’s new venture, Kosnitzky said he “didn’t believe so,” reiterated that Wynn denies the allegations, and said he believes “people should look at the totality of the man.”
Sierra Fine Art’s site, meanwhile, seems to have been created in some haste. One page advertising a forthcoming three-dimensional gallery feature reads: “Comming [sic] soon.”
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