Embattled Casino Mogul Steve Wynn Is Quietly Selling $100 Million Worth of Art at Christie’s
Sources say Wynn is the consignor behind works by Warhol and Picasso at next month's sales.
Less than three weeks ago, Steve Wynn sold his entire remaining stake in Wynn Resorts, the casino company he founded more than 15 years ago, after stepping down as the company’s chief executive amid numerous accusations of sexual misconduct. Now, artnet News has learned that the gambling empire is not all Wynn is selling.
Sources say that the blue-chip art collector and embattled mogul is the consignor of at least two high-profile works hitting the auction block at Christie’s next month: Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis [Ferus Type] (1963) and Pablo Picasso’s Le Marin (1943). Together, they are expected to fetch around $100 million. More works from Wynn’s collection are due to be announced in the coming weeks, the sources say.
A renowned art lover who owns major works by Jeff Koons, Pablo Picasso, and J.M.W. Turner, Wynn also served as the finance chair for the Republican National Committee before relinquishing the post in January after the misconduct claims surfaced. He has denied the allegations against him.
In an announcement on Friday, Christie’s described the Elvis painting, which is estimated to sell for around $30 million, as “among the defining icons of [Warhol’s] oeuvre” and a highlight of its marquee postwar and contemporary evening sale in New York on May 17.
That same Elvis painting was one of 59 works that Wynn used as collateral for an art-backed loan from Bank of America, Bloomberg reported in 2015. Sources with knowledge of Wynn’s holdings separately confirmed to artnet News that he is the consignor.
Notably, if the work were to sell within estimate next month—for a price “in the region of $30 million,” according to Christie’s—the casino magnate would end up taking a loss. Wynn bought the work at Sotheby’s New York in 2012, where it fetched $37 million with fees. (Its presale estimate at the time was $30 million to $50 million.)
The painting—which depicts Elvis against a silver background with a faint ghostly double just behind him—is one of a group of portraits of the icon that Warhol created for his second solo exhibition at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. Of the 22 so-called “Ferus Type” Elvis works known today, 11 are in museum collections, according to Christie’s.
Another high-profile work in next month’s Impressionist and Modern sale, Pablo Picasso’s Le Marin (1943), is also being sold by Wynn, sources say. In the vivid (if not immediately recognizable) self-portrait, the artist wears his signature striped sailor shirt and a world-weary expression that reflects his despair at the outbreak of World War II.
The work last appeared at auction in 1997, when it fetched $8.8 million (with fees) in the record-setting sale of Victor and Sally Ganz’s collection. If the painting sells in the region of its $70 million estimate on May 15, it would become one of the five most expensive works by the artist ever sold at auction.
(Le Marin is not the only Picasso owned by the Ganzes that eventually wound up with Wynn, however. In fact, the casino mogul notoriously put his elbow through the Ganz collection’s prize work—Picasso’s 1932 portrait Le Rêve—before he had it restored and sold it to Steve Cohen for a reported $155 million.)
It is unclear what might be motivating Wynn to sell his art now. Although he is facing multiple lawsuits from current and former employees as well as shareholders of Wynn Resorts, he is certainly not hurting for cash. In recent weeks, he has sold more than 11 million shares of his company to institutional investors. CNN reported last month that he had received a total of $2.1 billion for his stake in the firm.
Some experts say the billionaire’s decision to sell art now might be directly linked to this divestment. “I have a feeling that Wynn’s financial portfolio might have a multi-tiered organization—it’s not as if he simply paid cash and owns all these things outright,” said art advisor Todd Levin, the director of the Levin Art Group. “Steve Wynn, not as a person but as an entity, owned stock, cash, and art—and those are all likely tied together through a complex web of corporations and/or trusts.”
Although Levin said he is not privy to any insider knowledge about Wynn’s finances, he noted that ultra-high-net-worth individuals like Wynn often own assets through trusts and offshore accounts and that the sale of his shares may have somehow triggered the need to sell off art as well.
A representative for Christie’s said: “As a matter of policy Christie’s does not identify buyers or sellers by name without permission.” A representative for Wynn did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Update, April 9: Two more high-ticket works have been sold or consigned recently by Wynn, Bloomberg reports. Picasso’s Femme au chat assise dans un fauteuil (1964) is due to be offered at Christie’s Modern and Impressionist sale on May 15. It carries an estimate of $25 million–35 million. Another work reportedly owned by Wynn, Warhol’s Superman (1981), was sold by Acquavella Galleries at Art Basel Hong Kong last month. Its price was listed at $19.5 million. Reached by artnet News, Nick Acquavella confirmed the sale but declined to identify the consignor.
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