The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, June 12, 2002  

Scheming Parvenu Overpays for Third-Rate Art

Anyone still operating under the assumption that the art business is a “gentleman’s world” should take a look at how art dealers treated former Tyco International Inc. chairman and chief executive officer Dennis Kozloski.

In today’s New York Post, Paul Tharp writes that Kozlowski, who recently became an active participant in the allegedly glamorous world of fine art, was “taken to the cleaners.”

“Kozlowski, described as culturally unsophisticated and obsessed by the bottom line,” reports Tharp, “paid almost twice the market values of some of the artworks involved in his tax-cheating scandal.”

As has been reported, Kozlowski was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury on charges he avoided paying $1 million in sales taxes on the purchase of six paintings.

Kozloski’s total outlay was more than $13 million, but the works he bought “tended to be overpriced,” art-world sources told Tharp.

The high-living former CEO bought “a rather routine” painting by Sir Alfred Munnings from an unidentified art dealer for $800,000. Sotheby’s sold the painting to the same dealer just months earlier for less than $500,000.

Kozloski bought a “lesser work” by Pierre Auguste Renoir, “Fleurs et fruits” -- estimated by Sotheby’s to be worth between $1 million and $1.5 million -- from European dealer Alex Apsis, for $3.95 million. Apsis had recently acquired the painting for $3.6 million.

“It’s hard to imagine that anyone knowledgeable [about Renoir] would pay that much for that particular work -- it’s very odd,” writes Tharp, quoting an appraiser familiar with the sale.

Finally, Kozloski purchased “a mundane landscape” by Gustav Caillebotte for $1.3 million, a 66 percent premium to the price the dealer paid to pick up the painting from Sotheby’s a few months earlier.

At the height of the price fixing scandal that tarnished the reputations of Sotheby’s and Christie’s, one wag, referring to the auction houses having ripped off art and antiques dealers, observed, “It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch.”

Indeed. And ditto with respect to Kozloski.

We won’t say we feel Kozloski’s pain. Rather, we find it somehow comforting to know art dealers are conning Fifth Avenue as aggressively as plumbers and contractors have been cheating Main Street.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |