One of the more contentious dealer-collector disputes of recent years involves Barbara Gladstone and Daniel S. Loeb, a 42-year-old hedge-fund manager who owns an impressive contemporary-art collection. Loeb likes to relax via ashtanga yoga (he recently married a yoga instructor). But he’s also famously outspoken and accustomed to getting what he wants.
In March 2003, Loeb was walking through the Armory art show at Pier 92 with his art adviser at the time, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, a respected private collector in her own right; aspiring collectors hire her in order to gain access to desirable work. They wandered into Barbara Gladstone’s booth, where Loeb fell for a Matthew Barney photograph from his art-house cult film series, “The Cremaster Cycle.” It was just the sort of fortuitous find collectors hope to come across at one of the five major annual art fairs around the world. (Galleries hold back important work to show at the Armory or Basel.)
Loeb was ecstatic when a director of the gallery agreed to sell it to him. But the following week, Rohatyn phoned with bad news. The director had neglected to check with Gladstone before reserving the work for Loeb, and he couldn’t have it after all. Gladstone’s motivation for canceling the sale remains unclear—part of the opaque machinations of dealers that can drive aspiring collectors crazy. Had she already promised the photograph to someone else? Did a more important collector come along? Gladstone declines to go into the specifics: “It was a misunderstanding, period.” Whatever the reason, Loeb was furious with the gallery. “I had to remove myself from the situation,” Rohatyn recalls. “Dan’s anger took over and he was pretty upset.”
Loeb declines to comment on the dispute. Since then, however, he appears to have grasped that feuding with Gladstone isn’t necessarily the greatest idea. “It’s certainly not the way to ingratiate yourself with someone who has what you want,” one art-world observer notes.
“Dan’s off Barbara’s play list, maybe in perpetuity,” a rival dealer says with glee. “You have to be extremely well mannered if you want to get ahead.”
However, Rohatyn claims that Loeb and Gladstone have resolved their differences. “I tried to mediate it, to get them back together to where Barbara will feel comfortable selling him something again.
“Dan respects Barbara,” she insists. “These things do happen. It’s unfortunate, but you just wait till the next thing comes along. I grew up in the art world, so my attitude is a little bit different. I try to be casual. If you don’t get one picture, there’s always another picture. I’ll wait for a picture five years if I have to.”
Rohatyn also plays an important role in the Haye-Lehmann dispute, as the owner of several Mehretu paintings Lehmann thought should rightly have been his.
After Lehmann struck his right-of-first-refusal deal with Haye, the Project mounted Mehretu’s first one-woman show in New York in November 2001. All parties in the subsequent legal fracas agree that Lehmann was invited to preview the exhibition, but he was traveling in Europe at the time. Upon his return, he expressed interest in two large paintings, which had already been sold. Thereafter, he says, he persistently reminded the gallery of his desire to buy Mehretus—and at the 2003 Armory show angrily complained to Haye that he had not been offered the chance to do so. Lehmann did buy other discounted work from the gallery, and Haye attempted to placate him by selling him a small Mehretu, Excerpt Regiment, for $17,500. In court Lehmann explained that because of its size he didn’t really want the painting. “But he bought it, and he’s stuck with it,” the judge joked. “I thought it was pretty good myself.”
Lehmann testified that he was furious when he received a catalogue of paintings from a one-woman show by Mehretu at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. “I was flabbergasted,” he said in court, “because I’d asked for a year and a half for a work by Julie Mehretu. And I saw that the Greenberg Rohatyns owned five, and people I’d never heard of owned them.”
“There were obvious reasons to think that we’ve been very badly treated,” he said later.
Rohatyn and her husband, Nick, own a large, art-filled house on East 94th with a ground-floor gallery called Salon 94, open to the public three days a week and also to collectors by appointment. In court, Haye described Rohatyn as an early investor in the Project, a description that his friend politely rejects. “I was an early supporter of Julie’s work at the Project,” she says, “but I was not an investor in the gallery itself.”
Rohatyn sees no reason to apologize for her Mehretus. “I showed Julie before she showed with Christian,” she says, referring to a group exhibition she helped organize in 2000. “I won’t sell pictures that I own personally. And I’m a happy lender to exhibitions. To me it makes perfect sense that I have them.”
After seeing the Walker catalogue, Lehmann immediately wrote to Haye: “The catalogue . . . indicates that you sold at least 5 major paintings of Julie’s to a local dealer [Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn]. This is totally unacceptable, and you have not fulfilled your end of the contract. We have to demand from you the prompt payment of our remaining credit: $17,500.”
According to Lehmann, he was never interested in the money, only in applying pressure on Haye to sell him Mehretu’s work. “I know a lot of bad people in the art world,” he says. “I’m not a bad person. In 35 years I’ve never had a problem with any gallery.” He received a check soon after, without a word of apology. When no conciliatory offer of a Mehretu followed, Lehmann went on to file suit.
In their quest to acquire work by artists who are deemed fashionable, collectors will do all sorts of curious things. “I’ve seen tough business people grovel in a way they would never do in their business lives,” says Amy Cappellazzo, a former art adviser who is now head of Christie’s contemporary department. Others simply take a tough approach. “A client of mine was so desperate to buy a painting last week, he told me to tell the gallery he was starting a family foundation to build a private museum,” an uptown art adviser says. “I asked him if it was true and he said, ‘Of course not. Just tell them that so I can get the goddamned painting.’ ” The adviser declined.
But dealers have also devised their own idiosyncratic ways to control the distribution of art. Zach Feuer, who just had a sold-out show for Dana Schutz, another rising art star, now offers collectors a novel two-for-one deal for select works: “We ask people to buy two pieces, with the condition that one gets donated to a public institution.” Not everyone has warmed to the approach. “The deal he offered was, give a large painting to a museum, and get a little one to take home,” an art adviser says. “I said, ‘Get lost.’ ”