Thirty-three-year-old Malaysian financier Jho Low, one of the art collectors who own property in the Time Warner Center—he owns a penthouse on the 76th floor, once owned by Jay Z and Beyonce, that he bought for $30.55—has been identified in an article in the New York Times as the buyer of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1982 painting Dustheads. The painting fetched $48.8 million in May 2013 at Christie’s New York.
That purchase was part of a $495 million sale of postwar and contemporary art, which was, at the time, the highest total in auction history. Christie’s has gone on to break that record three times with subsequent contemporary art auctions. (For reports on the last two, see Christie’s $745 Million Evening Sale Astonishes and Epic Christie’s $852.9 Million Blockbuster Contemporary Art Sale is the Highest Ever.)
The information about Low’s purchase came from two sources “familiar with Mr. Low’s activities in the art world” one of whom said, “Inserting a Jho Low at the top of the market—who buys pictures over $20 million, $30 million, $40 million—it swings the market.”
When Low was asked if his family owned the work, he responded, in seeming confirmation, that he “did not purchase ‘Dustheads’ artwork on behalf of any investor.” It was similar to the way that he responded about the purchase of the penthouse, which he said he had not purchased for investors, but that his family’s trust owned it.
Basquiat’s painting brought the night’s third-highest price, and smashed his previous auction high of $26.4 million. But as the identities of buyers at art auctions are usually a closely guarded secret, with top bidders vying for the priciest lots by phone or from skyboxes, Low’s identity was not revealed at the time. The heavily worked painting shows two frantic-looking figures against a black background; their bug-eyed faces suggest the effects of PCP, the drug nicknamed angel dust, as referred to in the title. Christie’s New York was unable to comment, per confidentiality agreements. (See Basquiat’s Mystique and Market Keep Rising.)
The Times article is part two of a promised five-part series based on a yearlong investigation into foreign money pouring into the New York real estate market that “pierced the secrecy of more than 200 shell companies that have owned condominiums at one complex, the Time Warner Center.”
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