an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Picasso Fiasco: CultureGrrl Q&A with Mike Kosnitzky, Lawyer for Steve Wynn’s New Company UPDATED & CORRECTED

In my previous post about the astonishing news that unspecified damage was done at Christie’s on Friday to Picasso‘s “Le Marin,” 1943 (which had been estimated to bring around $70 million in Tuesday’s Impressionist/Modern Art auction), I had suggested that the auction house’s reticence might have been related to the situation’s being “in the hands of the lawyers (as happened with Steve Wynn‘s previous Picasso fiasco).”

That apparently is the case.

Although Christie’s has failed to respond to my repeated requests for more detailed information, Mike Kosnitzky of the Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman law firm, representing the other side in this contretemps, was willing to grant me a phone interview.

Michael Kosnitzky

His client in this dispute, he said, is not Steve Wynn as an individual, but the art-dealing firm that Wynn recently formed—Sierra Fine Art LLC. Three of the artworks on Sierra’s website are paintings that had been consigned to Christie’s. The two Picassos have been withdrawn, but the auction of Warhol‘s “Double Elvis,” estimated to bring about $30 million, is going forward.

Screenshot from Sierra Fine Art’s website

Below are excerpts (lightly edited for clarity) from my conversation this afternoon with Kosnitzky. (My own comments are italicized and in brackets.)

ROSENBAUM: Will a lawsuit be filed?

KOSNITZKY: We hope a lawsuit will not be filed. We are trying to work with Christie’s. There’s no arbitration and no lawsuit has been filed. Our intention is not to file one. Our intention is to work with the adjuster, the insurers and Christie’s and to try to get to an amicable, businesslike resolution of the problem.

ROSENBAUM: What’s your understanding of what happened?

KOSNITZKY: That a contractor that worked with Christie’s poked a hole in the painting with some implement. That’s my understanding.

Their position is that it was an accident. What makes this [in Kosnitzky’s opinion] flagrant, gross negligence is that the person who damaged the painting should never have been in the presence of the painting. [I suspect that Christie’s may argue otherwise.]

[Katya Kazakina of Bloomberg this afternoon reported an explanation of what happened, given to her by a source who asked not to be identified. Christie’s did not respond to my requests for details about how the painting was damaged and the nature of that damage.]

KOSNITZKY: If there’s any dispute with Christie’s, it’s over value. We think it is clearly worth over $100 million.

ROSENBAUM: Didn’t your client agree with the estimate [in the region of $70 million]? That’s usually arrived at in consultation with the consignor.

KOSNITZKY: My client was not involved in the presale estimates. My client was involved with what guarantees were. [Kosnitzky would not reveal the amounts of the guarantees.] The only thing that we contractually had deals with was the guarantee—the amount of which I cannot disclose….The guarantee is a minimum. We we disagree strongly with the value that Christie’s ascribes to it.

ROSENBAUM: How will you attempt to resolve your differences without having to resort to the courts or arbitration—through a financial payment that you feel is equitable?

KOSNITZKY: Of course: “Equitable” given the damage to the painting, the diminution in value and the cost to restore the painting to its original luster. That will be measured in years and at substantial cost.

ROSENBAUM: What comes next?

KOSNITZKY: The adjuster will have to do his or her report, then we’ll get a sense of what it will take to repair and then the experts will do valuation. I’m sure there will be some debate between the parties as to what the value is and what the diminution in value [due to the damage] is.

ROSENBAUM: Why was the other Picasso [“Femme au chat assise dans un fauteuil,” estimated at $22 million to $28 million] withdrawn?

I think just out of anger. He was very upset and did not want, as a business matter, to leave another fine Picasso there, so he removed the “Lady with the Cat” at the same time. He did also originally remove the Warhol “Double Elvis” [estimated “in the region of $30 million”] but after some urging, he felt it was in the best interest of Sierra Fine Arts to leave that painting there and allow them to sell it.

We’ll soon see how that goes. Tonight’s auction at Christie’s begins at 7 p.m.

UPDATE: “Double Elvis” hammered at $33.5 million; final price with fees was $37 million.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post had said that the two Picassos had been slated to be sold in today’s contemporary sale. They had been consigned to (and withdrawn from) Tuesday’s Impressionist/Modern sale (as I reported here).

A NOTE TO MY READERS: If you value my coverage, please consider supporting CultureGrrl by clicking the “Donate” button in the righthand column. Contributors of $10 or more are added to my email blast for immediate notification of my new posts.

an ArtsJournal blog