Have your own millionaire Picasso experience
This is the story of a Picasso painting, an art auction, celebrity multimillionaires, and a disastrous blunder that put a hole in the most expensive Picasso ever sold. If you keep up with news of the art world, you may have heard it already. But this is also the untold story of an original poster connected with the original auction, why I have it, how you can get it, and how you can make your own experience similar to those celebrity multimillionaires.
The story begins in New York City in 1941, when Victor and Sally Ganz spent $7,000 to buy a painting called “Le Reve” (also known as “The Dream”) by Pablo Picasso, depicting his lover Marie-Therese Walter. This purchase began a lifetime passion of collecting works by just their five favorite artists: Picasso, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Eva Hesse. Over 50 years, the Ganzes spent around $2 million building their entire collection. Victor Ganz died in 1987, and Sally died 10 years later.
In late 1997, their art collection went up for sale at Christie’s auction house in New York. Le Reve sold for a record-setting $48.4 million to an anonymous buyer — the most ever spent on a Picasso, and the second highest amount paid for any painting ever (the record was held by Vincent Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet, which sold at Christie’s for $82.5 million in 1990 and has since gone missing, an interesting story itself). The entire 58-lot collection sold for $206.5 million, setting a record for the sale of a private collection.
At the time of the Ganz sale, I worked at Christie’s in the photo studio, where I photographed fine art and other collectibles for the auction catalogs. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
The anonymous buyer who purchased Le Reve sold it to casino magnate Steve Wynn in 2001. He in turn sold it to hedge fund mogul Steven Cohen for $139 million, setting a new record for the most money spent on a painting. All the formalities of the deal were finished, but the handover of the painting had yet to take place when a terrible event occurred. Just a few months ago, before turning the painting over, Wynn had several famous friends over to show it off. Among the guests were Barbara Walters, Nicholas Pileggi, and Nora Ephron, who described on Ariana Huffington’s blog what happened next:
The Ganz collection went up for auction in 1997, Wynn was saying — he was standing in front of the painting at this point, facing us. He raised his hand to show us something about the painting — and at that moment, his elbow crashed backwards right through the canvas.
There was a terrible noise.
Wynn stepped away from the painting, and there, smack in the middle of Marie-Therese Walter’s plump and allegedly-erotic forearm, was a black hole the size of a silver dollar - or, to be more exactly, the size of the tip of Steve Wynn’s elbow — with two three-inch long rips coming off it in either direction. Steve Wynn has retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that damages peripheral vision, but he could see quite clearly what had happened.
“Oh shit,” he said.
Oh shit, indeed. As recently as last week, the story remained unsettled, as Wynn sued Lloyd’s of London in dispute over how much insurance is required to cover the damage.
As I mentioned, I worked as a photographer at Christie’s auction house from 1997 to 2000. It was pretty cool photographing priceless collectibles for every department at one of the most prestigious auction houses in the world. I photographed thousands of paintings and sculptures, including many by Picasso, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, and hundreds of other artists. I photographed documents hand-written by Presidents as far back as George Washington. I shot movie memorabilia including Edward Scissorhands’ gloves, the amulet from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and one of the Robocop costumes. I got to see the Archimedes Palimpsest first hand. And I shot photos of Neil Armstrong’s space suit. Okay, it wasn’t the one he walked on the moon in, it was just the one he did his training in, but still it’s pretty cool.
And I was there to see Le Reve sell for $48.4 million.
Working at Christie’s, I occasionally kept mementos of high profile auctions. I have a bookshelf overflowing with catalogs I photographed, but I only kept posters from one auction, the first high profile auction to happen during my time there. I kept the poster for the auction of the Collection of Victor and Sally Ganz, featuring Le Reve.
And now, history repeats itself on a much smaller scale as I am putting one of these original posters up for auction on eBay. I guarantee that as of right now, Steve Wynn has not punched a hole in it, and I will do my best to make sure that he does not punch any holes in it before the auction ends.
If you are the winning bidder, the poster will be sent to you in the same cardboard tube in which it has sat rolled up since I took it home nearly ten years ago. This poster has not been hanging on my wall, and is in excellent condition. It has no folds. There may be slight wear and tear on the edges, as might be expected of a poster rolled up in a tube for ten years. But you’d hardly notice unless you look closely.
Once the poster is yours, you are free to do with it as you please. Sell it to an investment banker at great profit. Hang it up. Invite your celebrity friends over to view it. Recreate a historic moment by shoving your elbow through it. I’m not sure whether or not you’ll be able to get Lloyd’s of London to insure it, but you’re welcome to try.
The auction can be found here.