Leon Black To Buy Online Art Sales Startup Artspace?

Leon Black.
Photo: © 2014 Patrick McMullan Company, Inc.

Financier and top collector Leon Black is in talks to acquire online art seller Artspace through his art publishing business Phaidon, according to a report by Katya Kazakina on Bloomberg. Black is the latest financial backer to channel funds into this increasingly crowded but as yet unproven e-commerce arena, alongside other hopefuls including Paddle8, Artsy, Amazon Art,  and Auctionata. (Artnet.com also holds online art sales and auctions in addition to offering subscription services to its price database and analytics reports.)

Christie’s has invested $50 million in its web-based auction platform since 2011 and has reported healthy results from its fast-growing category of online only sales for categories ranging from fine wine to jewelry, photographs and fine art. Last month, Sotheby’s launched its second partnership with eBay to expand its online auction volume.

According to the report, Artspace’s board of directors negotiated a merger with Berlin-based online auction site Auctionata for several weeks, but those talks fell apart last week. Auctionata reportedly valued Artspace at less than $5 million and offered shares in the company rather than cash. Phaidon’s offer, meanwhile, was all cash, and therefore more appealing, according to the report.

Black and his wife, Debra, consistently rank amid the top collectors in the world and are known to buy Old Masters, Impressionist and modern paintings, Chinese sculptures, and contemporary art. Black bought Phaidon in 2012. The company was founded in 1923 and publishes books on art, design, and food, including a volume of the Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné that retails for $750. He is a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and in 2012 he shelled out $120 million for Edvard Munch’s iconic, angst-ridden painting The Scream, setting a record at the time for the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. The nine-figure acquisition was later exhibited at MoMA.

According to the Bloomberg report, this isn’t Black’s first investment in a digital art platform: He recently put money into ArtBinder Inc., an iPad app used by some 300 galleries worldwide.





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