A collector who was once branded the ‘sith lord’ of the art world and was blamed for pushing prices too high has amassed a multi-million dollar collection of 25,000 pieces from up-and-coming artists.
Los Angeles-based Stefan Simchowitz, who started collecting unique stamps as a hobby when he was a kid in South Africa, adopted unorthodox ways of collecting art that earned him a dubious reputation in the art world.
Instead of collecting from galleries, the 52-year-old reaches out to unknown artists directly on Facebook and Instagram, and offers to buy their work before then selling it on to other collectors.
His subsequent buyers then flip the artwork at auction for big profits, meaning that new, upcoming artists’ works are sold for unsustainably high prices in the market, causing ‘career flameouts,’ reports the Wall Street Journal.
Stefan Simchowitz adopted unorthodox ways of collecting art that earned him a dubious reputation in the art world. Instead of collecting from galleries, the 52-year-old reaches out to unknown artists directly on Facebook and Instagram , and offers to buy their work before then selling it on to other collectors
A woman poses with a work of art by Tauba Auerbach – who was one of the first artists that Simchowitz invested in
Art critic Jerry Saltz once described Simchowitz as a sith lord – after he said that ‘any attempt to further control the system in opposition to me will asphyxiate them and asphyxiate the artist.’
Some of the earliest works Simchowitz bought, after perusing around Manhattan’s SoHo galleries while working as a movie producer in New York, included art from Tauba Auerbach and Sterling Ruby.
Auerbach’s pieces have fetched a cool $2.285milion in previous years, while Ruby’s work has sold for $1.78million at auction in the past.
Simchowitz’ aim, however, is to find budding masterpieces when they’re still cheaper than $5,000.
He also started financing artists and helping them produce work that he bought and sold – like Jonathan Monk’s rabbit sculptures ‘The Inflated Deflated,’ and Petra Cortright and Lily Ramírez’s eye-catching colorful pieces.
Cortright – whose collaborative art life with Simchowitz started in 2011 when he messaged her on Facebook. Her bright works often go for as much as $65,000.
Some of the artists he patrons include Serge Attukwei Clottey – who Simchowitz gives $15,000 a month for supplies and other expenses.
Clottey’s work has just featured in exhibitions in Venice and Saudi Arabia, and his work has sold for up to $500,000 in the past.
Petra Cortright’s art. She has been supported by the collector for over a decade
Simchowitz’ aim is to find budding masterpieces when they’re still cheaper than $5,000
Simchowitz has multiple 11,000-square-foot warehouses in Los Angeles where he stores his immense collection – which contains over 25,000 pieces of art. He opened up his first gallery in California in 2021.
Along with Brian Ludlow, a lawyer, the pair set up Creative Art Partners – an art rental company which is now shipping 3,500 artworks to over 180 locations.
Their artwork, which clients pay for on a monthly basis, adorn the walls of social clubs and luxury hotels throughout the US. Sometimes the rentals end in sales – and the company ranked in $10million for Simchowitz alone last year.
It’s a way for Simchowitz to keep his artwork assets moving in public – metamorphosing them into a service that can be more lucrative than just sitting away, unseen, in an archive or storage.
And Simchowitz doesn’t just pay young artists to create, he is now founding his own compound in Pasadena, California, where artists can use studio space and pottery kilns, and exhibition space.
Speaking to WSJ, Simchowitz said: ‘I’m one of the bad guys who ends up good. Maybe I started out as a devil, but it’s better to do that and end up an angel than the other way around, right?’
Despite the good he does for up and coming artists, there are traditional people within the art world that refuse to work with him, and deny that he is a tastemaker in his own right.
Artist Lily Ramirez, whose eye-catching pieces have been snapped up by the art collector in recent years
Artist Petra Cortright – whose collaborative art life with Simchowitz started in 2011 when he messaged her on Facebook. Her bright works often go for as much as $65,000
Dealer Tim Blum said he won’t sell him anything – and believes that it’s ‘creepy’ that Simchowitz finances young artists.
‘Thinking about it makes me sick to my stomach,’ he said.
Jeffrey Deitch, the former director of Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art, on the other hand told WSJ about Simchowitz: ‘No one is attempting anything like Stefan today.
‘He’s constructing an art empire of his own.’
Former auction executive Amy Cappellazzo said: ‘Stefan is making our systems more efficient and even more democratic.’
Simchowitz told WSJ: ‘You’re not supposed to make money from art.
‘You’re supposed to sell companies and use the money to just buy art, but that never made sense to me.’