When a work of art is damaged, it loses value. No one wants to purchase a faded or frayed canvas — or one that’s been riddled with bullet holes, right?
Last October, Banksy’s Girl With Balloon sold at auction for a record $1.4 million. The final bid came in at three times the estimate for the framed piece.
Moments after the auction concluded, an alarm sounded and the painting fed vertically through a shredder Banksy had built into the frame. Banksy intended to shred the print entirely, but the device malfunctioned, leaving only half the piece hanging in ribbons from the frame.
The new piece, halted mid-self-destruction, was renamed Love Is in the Bin. Some critics claim it’s now worth north of $2 million.
Nothing like this had ever happened before. No one had ever ruined a piece of art — purposely and publicly — only to have the damage actually increase the work’s value.
But the public shredding of Girl With Balloon isn’t the only instance of a mutilated work of art fetching more at auction — not in spite of but because of its damage.
Giving Picasso the Elbow
Unique provenance + a well-known artist + an unfortunate accident = $155 million.
That’s how much financier Steven A. Cohen paid for Picasso’s “Le Rêve” (The Dream) in 2013. How the parties ended up at that astronomical price tag is a curious tale…
Let me walk you through it.
One major factor used to determine a work of art’s value is provenance — or the history of ownership. Sometimes who owned a particular piece matters more than who made it. At least in terms of its commercial worth.
Cohen bought “Le Rêve” from notorious Las Vegas hotelier Steve Wynn. Wynn purchased it at auction for $48 million from the collection of Victor and Sally Ganz.
This middle-class Manhattan couple are counted among the most distinguished contemporary art collectors of the 20th century. They originally purchased “Le Rêve” for $7,000 in 1941.
Wynn was originally slated to sell Cohen the painting in 2006 for $139 million. But the sale was cancelled when it befell a rather tragic mishap…
While showing off the Picasso to his famous friends (including Barbara Walters, Nora Ephron, Louise Grunwald and Georgette Mosbacher), Wynn accidentally put his elbow through the canvas, leaving a six-inch tear in the right forearm.
The rip was repaired and some people say you can’t tell it was ever torn. Others, like Kate Ganz who grew up with the painting, say the defect is obvious.
Either way, Cohen just had to have it. In 2013, he spent $155 million to buy “Le Rêve” from Wynn in a private sale. At the time, it was the most money a U.S. collector had ever paid for a painting.
But that isn’t the strangest, or the most star-studded, instance of damaged goods …
Who Shot Chairman Mao?
In January 2011, Christie’s New York auctioned off 241 works of art from late actor Dennis Hopper’s personal collection. Among pieces by major artists such as Annie Leibovitz, Helmut Newton, Marcel Duchamp and Gerhard Richter was a full-sheet framed screen print from Andy Warhol’s 1972 Mao series.
The series consists of 10 screen prints based on Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong’s official portrait. The prints vary in color — Mao’s face ranges from reddish-brown to mint green — and there are irregular squiggles around his head in each.
But Hopper’s piece is truly one of a kind.
Prior to the sale, high estimates valued the print at around $30K. When the gavel came down at the end of the auction, the room sat stunned. The final bid? An astonishing $302,500 — more than 10 times the presale appraisal.
That’s a big difference. So what made Hopper’s print so valuable?
He shot it. Not once, but twice.
The way Hopper tells it, one wild night he mistook the print for a living, breathing Mao in his living room and fired at it in a panic. One bullet lodged in the print above Mao’s left shoulder, the other in his right eyelid.
When Hopper showed his longtime friend what he had done, Warhol circled both bullet holes and labeled them and the pair decided to call it a collaboration.
Hence the $302,500 price tag.
As Christie’s director of iconic collections, Cathy Elkies, told the New York Post after the auction, “Collectors don’t simply covet works of art, they love a good narrative.”
I couldn’t agree more.
If you want to invest in a picture worth a thousand words (and more in profits), I recommend visiting our partners at Masterworks. This innovative platform allows folks like you and me to invest in fine art — without the multimillion-dollar price tag.
In fact, right now, you can invest directly in another showstopping piece by Andy Warhol — sans bullet holes — for as little as $1,000.
Lucille St. John
Lucille St. John
Lucille St. John is the managing editor of Unconventional Wealth. A gentlewoman and a scholar, Lucille never received much in the way of a financial education. But what she lacks in fiscal knowledge she makes up for in taste.
She’s going to take you with her on her unconventional wealth journey — starting from...