Stefan Simchowitz Turns Christie’s Frieze Sales Into a Coming Out Party


It started at the Waddington sale earlier in the week. Last night, Stefan Simchowitz–the dealer and provocateur whom at least one collector refers to as the Kim Kardashian of the art world (it’s a bit of a rorschach)–confirmed his desire to be seen as significant player in the art market.

Simchowitz bought another £7m or more of work on top of the $5m he paid at the earlier sale. Nate Freeman tallied up the lots:

The night’s biggest buyer was the Los Angeles-based dealer and collector Stefan Simchowitz, who picked up four different works to the tune of £7.4 million ($9.3 million), after being a reliable presence at fairs and sales earlier in the week, always toting around his camera and asking people he likes if he could take their photo. (He could be seen before the sale began in the front row with members of the Nahmad family, in the press pit mingling with reporters, and beside the pulpit taking pictures of the night’s auctioneer, Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkkanen.)
Here’s the full lineup of Simchowitz’s loot: Thomas Schütte’s Bronzefrau Nr. 13(2003) for £3.7 million  ($4.7 million); Damien Hirst’s Salvation (2003) for £665,000 ($844,000); Damien Hirst’s Damnation (2004) for £485,000 ($615,000); and Jean Dubuffet’s La Vie Agreste (The Rural Life) (1949) for £2.6 million ($3.3 million).

You can focus on the sheer volume of buying from a dealer who used to buy in bulk at the low-end of the market. Or, you can dwell on Simchowitz chatting up the Nahmad family then going bid-for-bid with them over a Dubuffet the family seemed very eager to own.

The Nahmads play a deep game in the art market. So there’s no telling whether Simchowitz frustrated the Monagasque dynasty or fell for their trap. Whatever took place, the rest of the floating world that is the art market took close notice.

It will take time for Simchowitz to prove his acumen matches the Nahmads’ extraordinary trading record. At present, he is an inflationary force, as Colin Gleadell points out:

The highest estimate of the sale was for Thomas Schütte’s sensuous bronze, Bronzefrau Nr.13, at up to £1.8 million ($2.2 million) after a similar work from the 2003 series sold last year for £1.3 million ($1.6 million). Tonight’s example left that far behind as it sold to Los Angeles dealer Stefan Simchowitz for £3.7 million ($4.8 million.)
Simchowitz’s influence on the sale wasn’t pervasive. The sale demonstrated that Christie’s could shift gears both in the artists it brings to market and the price ranges in which it operates. The specialist who ran the sale deserves high marks for setting low estimates on highly sought after works. The cumulative effect was to wake up the art market to new possibilities and confound much of the public background noise of contraction and exhaustion.
That said, not every sale at Christie’s was a winner. Works damaged by incomplete sales and having been shopped at art fairs for dramatically higher prices were lucky to transact at all:
Another top estimate was for a Cy Twombly calligraphic work on paper, Untitled (1972), which had sold at Christie’s in 2014 to a Chinese phone buyer for £2.3 million ($2.8 million). Apparently the drawing was never paid for, as the painting returned to the market Thursday; the sale catalogue indicated that Christie’s now owned the painting. Facing a potential loss with a reduced estimate of up to £1.5 million ($1.9 million), Christie’s made a profit as the drawing sold for £2.6 million ($3.3 million).