A Wall Road Billionaire Shot Himself in His Household Workplace. His Demise Is Reverberating within the Museum World, and the Artwork Market

A Wall Road Billionaire Shot Himself in His Household Workplace. His Demise Is Reverberating within the Museum World, and the Artwork Market

In happier occasions, distinguished pals would collect on the stylish Sutton Place residence of the billionaire museum trustees Thomas H. Lee and Ann Tenenbaum to rejoice their favourite causes amid work by Twentieth-century giants and electrifying works by residing artists. A curved staircase, in the meantime, beckoned to ever greater realms above the bustle of Manhattan.

This week, New York society assembled there yet another time for a much more somber event: the Jewish mourning ritual of shiva, following Lee’s tragic suicide by gunshot on February 23. The private-equity buyout pioneer was 78, and left behind his spouse of 27 years, 5 youngsters, two grandchildren, and lots of unanswered questions.

Because the household grieves and Wall Road ruminates on Lee’s legacy, a number of the implications of his passing have already began to radiate into the museum world and artwork market. A longtime museum trustee, Lee assembled an artwork trove replete with work by Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, Jackson Pollock, and Francis Bacon. A monumental 1964 blue-and-red portray by Ellsworth Kelly that hangs within the salon is a promised reward to the Whitney Museum of American Artwork, on whose board Lee served for 29 years. Some pictures adorning the house are a part of a promised reward to the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork, which paid tribute to the couple’s eye for the medium with a public exhibition in 2020, “Pictures’s Final Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Assortment.”

A Wall Road Billionaire Shot Himself in His Household Workplace. His Demise Is Reverberating within the Museum World, and the Artwork Market

Thomas H. Lee and Ann Tenenbaum’s Sutton Place residence photographed throughout an occasion in 2019. Works by Ellsworth Kelly, Donald Judd, Mark Rothko, and Andy Warhol are on view. Photograph: Matteo Prandoni/BFA.com © BFA 2023.

Lee started shopping for postwar and up to date artwork within the Nineties, a big decade in his skilled and private life. In 1992 his Boston-based agency Thomas H. Lee Companions famously acquired Snapple for about $135 million, took it public, after which resold to Quaker Oats two years later for $1.7 billion. (Lee’s sensible flip turned out to be an enormous flop for Quaker Oats, which resold the beverage firm for simply $300 million lower than three years later, inspiring headlines like “Quaker-Snapple: $1.4 Billion Is Down the Drain”).

Armed with about $927 million from that sale, Lee jumped into the artwork world as a collector and philanthropist. In 1994, he joined the board of the Whitney, the place he would go on to play an vital function, serving on the chief committee in addition to the committees overseeing the fashionable portray and sculpture division and nominations for the board. On the Breuer constructing, the Whitney’s outdated residence, Lee commemorated galleries on the second flooring in honor of his mother and father Mildred and Herbert Lee.

“He introduced the perspective of a businessman and an entrepreneur to a sector that, as you properly know, is way much less centered on that than on the current second,” stated Maxwell Anderson, the Whitney director from 1998 to 2003, noting that, because the chair of the nominating committee, Lee was “vital to charting the way forward for the establishment in recruiting new expertise, assist, and concepts.”

“I’m heartbroken over the lack of Tom Lee, a beloved honorary trustee and resolute, beneficiant supporter of the Whitney Museum,” stated Adam D. Weinberg, who has been the Whitney director since 2003. “A trustee for practically three a long time, Tom embodied the eagerness, dedication, and imaginative and prescient that drives our mission ahead. His braveness, tenacity, generosity and humorousness endeared him to us all. He leaves behind an indelible mark on the Whitney and on our hearts. He was a pricey, pricey good friend, and I’ll miss him terribly.”

Thomas H. Lee in 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for NYU Langone Medical Center)

Thomas H. Lee in 2015 in New York Metropolis. (Photograph by Mike Coppola/Getty Photographs for NYU Langone Medical Heart)

On the similar time, Lee was turning into a frequent presence at Christie’s and Sotheby’s salerooms, paying document costs for works by Arshile Gorky and Sigmar Polke, as Carol Vogel would attest many times in reporting for the New York Occasions

He was keen about Summary Expressionism. In Might 1994, he purchased Pollock’s Quantity 22, a small, dense drip portray from 1949, for $1.7 million. The work, which has remained in his assortment, might be price $40 million or extra now, in response to public sale consultants.

He picked up the tempo in 1995, the 12 months he divorced Barbara Fish, his spouse of 27 years. That November, he set an public sale document for Arshile Gorky with the $3.96 million buy of Scent of Apricots on the Fields (1944). (It’s unclear if the work stays within the household assortment, nevertheless it hasn’t returned to public sale, in response to Artnet Value Database.)

Privately, Lee purchased Rothko’s practically 8-foot-tall Olive Over Crimson (1956), in response to David Anfam’s catalogue raisonné, Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas. The Rothko nonetheless hangs in his lounge. It might be price about $40 million, in response to public sale specialists.

Tenenbaum, whom Lee married in 1996, grew to become his gathering associate. She is a trustee of the Met and serves on a number of different distinguished cultural boards in New York.

“She was very a lot by his aspect pondering by these decisions,” Anderson stated, “what they collected and the methods during which they supported particular person artists. And I feel that hybrid was vital for him.”

Three years in the past, Tenenbaum spoke with me in regards to the origin of the couple’s pictures assortment and Lee’s assist of her pursuits.

“He was getting divorced from his spouse,” she advised me in March 2020. “They’d a giant artwork assortment, largely Outdated Masters. I didn’t take care of that stuff. I used to be solely 32. He stated, ‘Let’s begin over. Go purchase some stuff.’”

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #48,(1979), from the exhibition "Photography's Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Promised gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Movie Nonetheless #48,(1979), from the exhibition “Pictures’s Final Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Assortment” on the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork. Promised reward of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Photos, New York.

Her first acquisition was Cindy Sherman’s photograph of a hitchhiker, Untitled Movie Nonetheless #48, which she purchased at public sale for $40,000. At present, the work is amongst Sherman’s most costly; in 2015, one other instance from the version of three fetched $2.9 million at Christie’s.

Lee’s personal gathering roots went again to his mother and father, and particularly his mom Micki Lee, who “had a watch and style forward of her time,” Vogel wrote in 1998. The elder Lees have been early supporters of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, usually shopping for freshly made works from Leo Castelli Gallery. One such work was Weeping Girls, a portray by Johns, that in 2006 made its option to billionaire David Geffen through Si Newhouse, in response to Vogel. Geffen stated this week that he nonetheless owns the piece.

“They have been excellent early collectors of latest artwork,” stated an individual who knew them. “They have been shopping for on the first market. [Lee] realized from his mother and father to purchase primary-market when he may.”

Micki Lee’s Calendar (1962) by Rauschenberg not too long ago entered the Met’s assortment as a present from the Lee household, in response to the museum. Apparently, the work had been supplied on the market privately over the previous 10 years however was unable to discover a purchaser, an individual conversant in the work stated.

Whereas Lee’s mother and father have been famous collectors, his private artwork trove was largely of his personal making and style, a mixture of blue-chip postwar artwork and rising works. As not too long ago as 2019, company to the Lee and Tenenbaum residence would encounter a small portrait by Francis Bacon, a wall piece by Donald Judd, a map by Alighiero Boetti, a Bruce Nauman neon, the long-lasting twins by Diane Arbus that impressed The Shining, a smooth glass sculpture by Fred Eversley, an exuberant ceramic pot by Brian Rochefort, and a Jeff Koons portray from his Hulk Elvis collection.

Andy Warhol, 5 Deaths twice 1 (Red car crash) (1963). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Andy Warhol, 5 Deaths twice 1 (Crimson automobile crash) (1963). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

A key work was Warhol’s 1963 5 Deaths twice 1 (Crimson automobile crash), which offered for $6.5 million at Sotheby’s in 2004. It might be price $15 million to $20 million in at present’s market, in response to public sale consultants.

The precise worth of the gathering is hard to evaluate as a result of it’s unclear what stays in it and what might have been offered in recent times privately. Complicating issues additional is the truth that Lee was, in public sale parlance, “a worth purchaser,” in response to an individual conversant in his gathering.

“It’s all the precise names: Rothko, Pollock, Lichtenstein,” the particular person stated. “The works are good, however they don’t seem to be nice.”

Nonetheless, Lee anticipated high costs when negotiating with the public sale homes. When a bunch of Lee’s works ended up coming on the market at Christie’s in November 2016, a Warhol self-portrait fetched $6.5 million however a Lichtenstein work on paper, Reverie, did not promote, in response to Artnet Value Database. It was final seen this week within the Sutton Place residence, in response to folks conversant in the setting. 

It’s unclear whether or not any of those works have been promised to establishments. Michael Sitrick, a consultant for the household, stated the household was not doing the interviews.

It’s additionally unclear whether or not any of the artwork would possibly head to public sale. After Newhouse died in 2017, leaving the artwork trove to his spouse, a number of key works from his assortment got here to market, with Warhol’s Orange Marilyn and Koons’s bunny promoting for eye-watering numbers to billionaire hedge fund managers. Nonetheless extra works are coming to Christie’s in Might.

What is definite is that the Wall Road icon’s sudden dying is now reverberating on many ranges, together with within the artwork world.

“Tom Lee was a outstanding philanthropist and a pricey good friend to many,” stated Max Hollein, the Met’s director. “His unwavering dedication to the Met for greater than 25 years, collectively together with his spouse Ann Tenenbaum, has left an indelible mark on our establishment. He and Ann offered transformational items to the Division of Pictures and past that can proceed to complement the lives of our guests for generations to return. We’re deeply saddened by his loss and lengthen our heartfelt condolences to his household and family members.”

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