What's It Worth? Winners vs. Losers
As mentioned before, I’m not a big gambler, because at poker and Vegas games, I typically lose. However, Katrina allows me – even encourages me – to gamble on antiques and fine paintings.
In 2007, a “picker” (a smart, seasoned antique dealer who doesn’t have a shop but sells to other dealers) started bringing us extraordinary, valuable art books and mid-level paintings by well-known artists.
He was buying from a retiree who lived in a mobile home.
This steady stream of collectible art books and paintings lasted almost two years. We made our normal profit of 10 to 30 percent. The picker then brought us one last painting that he had bought for a large amount of money from the retiree.
The picker noted that the owner had collected art from hanging out in tight circles of famous artists in the 1940s and ’50s. This unsigned painting was very powerful, and since all of the collector’s previous items were genuine, we believed the picker’s story. His client said he was with Jackson Pollock when the artist became intoxicated, and flung this painting out into his yard toward the alleyway. The retiree fetched the painting later and kept it for almost 50 years.
There were six investors, with two investing $10,000 for a sixth of a partnership. A gamble? Yes; but four collectors, including me, believed in the quality of the painting – and more importantly– the narrative. Also, the upside was incredible; because, if genuine, this painting could be worth millions. The money from each of us was not all profit for the picker, because it had to go to the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) for authentication. Our group elected to send it to IFAR at a cost of $1,800 and 1½ years. After the time had passed, we received the results.
IFAR started the first page of its 20-page document by saying it was of the period of Pollock, used materials that Pollock used and had other similarities to Pollock’s work. By the end of the detailed report, it began saying things like “amateurish construction,” “inferior to Pollock’s work,” and concluded that “in their opinion” it was not genuine.
In many circles, a ruling from IFAR is accepted without question; but some are skeptical, insisting they are fallible. It is an extraordinary piece and the question remains: is it a Pollock? Or is it by one of his inner circle – or by Lee Krasner, his girlfriend/ wife? We don’t know. But it remains in our bank vault to this day.
We were stuck now, with our only options being to sell in “the manner of” with a valuation of $500-$1,500; in the “circle of” with a valuation of $1,000-$5,000, or as “attributed to” with an auction estimate of $10,000-$20,000.
If IFAR had blessed the work, the auction estimate would have been $2 million to $3 million.
We are always buying fine and decorative arts, and fine antiques.
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