Steve Cohen & His ‘Non-Judgmental’ Art Collection
What does an art collection say about the collector? In the case of Steven Cohen, it’s complicated. Sotheby’s has on display (until April 14) an exhibition of 20 paintings collected by the hedge fund billionaire and his wife Alexandra.
What you can tell immediately from this group of works — which is worth seeing as this is a private collection and rarely, if ever, exhibited — is that the owners are wealthy. Very wealthy. We’re talking Picasso (three), Matisse (two), Van Gogh, and Cezanne. And that’s not even counting the most expensive of the batch. That would be de Kooning’s “Women III,” which Cohen bought from David Geffen for $137.5 million. The total value on view is reportedly about $450 million.
If you were to judge Cohen’s taste on these paintings, you might think he’s a safe bettor. You can’t go wrong on modern masters. Even if you buy their minor works, you still own a major claim to art history. And as far as reselling goes, there’s no risk: Someone will always want to buy these works from you.
But the collection also reflects the current standards of the contemporary art world. Here you’ll find artists who have been anointed in recent decades— Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Marlene Dumas, Lisa Yuskavage. These are blue-chip names that may dip in value, but are so accepted that they, too, are safe bets. The presence of these names clearly makes this a collection built in the last decade: It is an accurate representation of the taste of the reigning art establishment.
As Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art, put it in a press release: “The Cohen collection of 20th Century art is one of the most significant in the world. It has been assembled with rigor and attention to detail, but there is still the openness to expression. As collectors, they are curious and non-judgmental and totally free in their thinking.”
Clearly, he means “non-judgmental” as a compliment. But isn’t the ability to make judgments the best part of collecting art? The Cohen collection would be more of a personal statement with some evidence of preferences or judgments. What kind of art do the Cohens prefer? All of it! Especially pieces that are expensive and art-world approved.
If they have personal tastes in art, those tastes are overridden by the art’s monetary value. Well, it’s good to be (a hedge fund) king.