We are on Long Island. Beyond the 45 kilometres of Hamptons coastline, about two hours from New York by car, there is a unique microclimate in America. With an atmosphere known for being tasteful and cool, surrounded by cornfields and old fishing huts, the very wealthy – with fortunes big and small – come to seek refuge here from the neighbouring megacity, usually for weekends and summer holidays. But since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, these wealthy elites have even been leaving the city during the week for this verdant landscape, due to the sombre mood in New York and closures of schools, restaurants, and museums.
Don’t lock the door
This is a land of immaculately manicured driveways, elegant rural farmsteads and large architects’ houses with super high luxury cars parked outside. Locals know all this by heart. Here, people don’t lock their doors. It seems to be countless kilometres away from the tensions of the rest of America. The oceanfront properties here sell for between 40 and 150 million dollars. For a long time now this enchanted place has been colonized by major art dealers without them taking action directly.
The global high priest of the contemporary art trade, Larry Gagosian, has a 930m2 house in East Hampton where he receives people in luxury. The dealer Adam Lindemann (Read the report about him) acquired the legendary former home of Andy Warhol at the far end of the peninsula in Montauk thanks to one of his windfalls in art: the sale for 23.5 million dollars in 2007 of a giant red heart in polished metal by Jeff Koons.
Leon Black, David Geffen, Ronald Lauder
D Flavin @ Dia Foundation, Bridge Hampton
All the mythical collectors of today are there, such as the investor Leon Black, the music producer and film executive David Geffen, and Ronald Lauder, son of Estée… Strangely, however, for a long time the local art scene was rather unfashionable.
Pollock &Krasner, Flavin
You could of course always visit Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner’s famous studio in Springs (Read the report about Lee Krasner exhibition in Bilbao). And of course the prestigious Dia Foundation has a little chapel in Bridgehampton which is a gem of its kind, dedicated to the minimalist art of Dan Flavin. But until now the art fair in the Hamptons was a provincial phenomenon, and the Parrish Museum, the local contemporary art museum, seemed like a place destined to be a failure of business capital.
Christophe van de Weghe
That is, until May 2020, when the Belgian-born New York art dealer Christophe Van de Weghe, who has long been based in the United States, and like many others retreated to his second home during the crisis, was looking for a local office to work in away from the hyperactivity of his three children. “I found a small building with three spaces in East Hampton and right away a dealer friend from New York, Per Skarstedt, also asked me to reserve him a place there. Sotheby’s and their head of private sales, David Schrader, followed suit. It’s probably the place with the largest concentration of art collectors per square metre in the world. My first visitor to the gallery was the hedge fund manager Steven Cohen! This summer I sold two works for over 20 million dollars each.”
Normally, in July and August, all these wealthy people are holidaying on the other side of the world. Due to the current pandemic, however they have been obliged to stay in the United States and have become captive customers. “To convince one of my collectors, I hung a painting on his wall by an abstract expressionist painter for a week. It was easy. He only lived a kilometre from the gallery. He ended up buying it,” continues Van de Weghe.
David Schrader from Sotheby’s (Read the reports about Sotheby’s new strategies here and here) reveals how in East Hampton he had a result that was nearly three times higher than he was expecting. “We have a very ‘lifestyle’ set of offerings, from watches to design via contemporary art, with pieces ranging from 5,000 to 50 million,” explains the head of private sales at Sotheby’s.
Christophe Van de Weghe fine art
“You don’t do business with a buyer in sandals and a t-shirt in the same way as in a New York gallery,” points out Noah Horowitz, director of Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), the largest art fair in America, which was cancelled this year in favour of an online version (Read the report about ABMB in 2019). This is how the initiatives have multiplied. At the beginning of the summer Christie’s rented the Parrish Museum for a week to display the star lots from one of their sales.
Numerous galleries have come and based themselves in this area too, such as Lehmann Maupin who normally operate from Seoul to New York. “Our current strategy, beyond everything being online, involves focusing on local markets,” explains the co-owner, David Maupin, who is jointly opening a new temporary space in Palm Beach. Because it’s starting to get cold in the Hamptons… “Palm Beach isn’t cool like the Hamptons. Over there it’s uptight America. And Trump America too,” is the acerbic remark from an art dealer who doesn’t want to have anything to do with the richest small city in Florida.
Erwin Wurm @ Lehmann Maupin
However Adam Sheffer, the vice president of Pace, a powerful gallery with branches internationally, explains that “some of our clients go straight from the airport at West Hampton to the airport at Palm Beach from Thanksgiving onward. So we took a space at both sites.” He adds: “In East Hampton we sold a huge number of works, maybe several hundreds, by young artists. The prices don’t exceed 100,000 dollars. Whereas in Palm Beach our prices for recognized artists range from 500,000 to over a million dollars.”
Tax deals in Florida
It must be said that in Florida the tax deals are more favourable for local residents. So at the first sign of cold weather this is where the billionaires from the rest of America fly to. The most flamboyant in the community of local collectors is Beth Rudin DeWoody, who even opened an exhibition space in 2017 in West Palm Beach. The heir to a real estate empire is displaying her eccentric collection (10,000 objects according to the New York Times, with 300 being exhibited) in an old art-deco building 2 miles from Mar-a-Lago, famous for being the retreat of the future ex-president of the United States.
Basquiat and real estate
We know that Ken Griffin, the Chicago investor, also has a residence there. According to the Wall Street Journal he recently spent over 100 million dollars on the acquisition of a Basquiat canvas. And if the rumours are to be believed, it was also thanks to the sale of this Basquiat painting that the famous New York collector Peter Brant and his wife, the former model Stephanie Seymour, were able to become the happy owners of an impressive home overlooking the ocean.
Life in Palm Beach
Acquavella in Palm Beach
The interwar photography star, Cecil Beaton, summed up his life in Palm Beach with these words: “Tennis, swimming, lunch, golf, drinks, dinner”. Today we should add: “Shopping in art galleries”. The art market is adapting at great speed to the realities of the public health crisis.
James Turrell @Pace gallery
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