Why Did Leon Black Pay $50 Million for Former Knoedler Space?

The disgraced gallery could showcase the billionaire's $120 million Scream.

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

Leon Black, the titan of private equity, and his wife Debra are purchasing the Upper East Side Italian Renaissance-style townhouse that is the former home of Knoedler & Company art gallery, the Real Deal reports. The gallery, one of the oldest and most distinguished in the country, closed amid scandal in November 2011 after 165 years in business when its owner was charged with selling fake artworks by various artists including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning.

Knoedler had weathered a series of blows for three years prior to the sale, including the resignation in October 2009 of its president Ann Freedman. The townhouse, a roughly 20,000-square-foot space at 19 East 70th Street, had been occupied by Knoedler for 41 years and was put on the market two months after Freedman’s resignation for $59.9 million. It was sold in February 2011 for $31 million. The town house was last swapped in 2013 when London-based developer Christian Candy picked it up for $35 million. He put it back on the market in June this year, just a few months after filing a permit for a $10.6 million renovation, in which he proposed to return the space from commercial use to a single-family home.


Former Knoedler townhouse at 19 East 70th Street.
Courtesy Sotheby’s International Realty.

According to Sotheby’s International Realty, which listed the space, the building has 10-to-14-foot coffered ceilings, eight bedrooms, two libraries, and a large elevator. It has both its original staircase (the town house was built as a private home in 1909) as well as an additional staff staircase in the back of the building.

Black, the billionaire co-founder of Apollo Global Management, has a flair for titillating the art world with his savvy purchases. In 2012, he reportedly picked up a version of Edvard Munch’s Expressionist masterpiece The Scream (1895) at Sotheby’s for $120 million, which at the time broke the record for the most expensive work of art ever purchased at auction. Just last week, he did it again when Phaidon, the fine-art-book publisher he owns (he also acquired it in 2012), scooped up Artspace Marketplace, an online seller of contemporary art, for an undisclosed price.

What does Black intend to do with a building with such a notorious history? Does he plan to open a gallery, perhaps a place to permanently showcase The Scream? If he turns it back into a residence, will he get some kind of macabre thrill from living in a space that was used to traffic in fake art?

“This could be the most spectacular important private residence once again,” read the Sotheby’s listing, “or used as a gallery.” What Black intends to use the space for is unclear.


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