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The Most Wanted Works of Art

December 29, 2008

lhooqIf a piece is “truly, truly to die for” and is still in private hands, it is no doubt on someone else’s wish list. Like that $100 million Cézanne.

The Museum of Modern Art has one. So does Los Angeles collector Eli Broad. They can be predictable or idiosyncratic, practical or fantastical. But most wish lists are very, very private. “That’s really personal stuff,” a top New York collector chuckled when asked to name his most wanted artworks still in private hands.

Yearning—the more discreet the better—makes the art world go ’round. Dealers and auction specialists at the top of their game know where the most wanted artworks are at any given moment and what price might wrest a coveted object from its owner. Museum curators keep track of the same information to court loans and gifts. Collectors, meanwhile, no matter how desired the works in their own collections, always have an eye on something else.

“We all have our wish lists but we don’t go around talking about them. It gets in the way of our getting the work,” says Miami art collector Donald Rubell. “We hope that when our friends die, their children won’t like their art. Those are our silent wishes.”

Continue reading my ARTnews article here or download the pdf.

Listen to me talk about the article on NPR.

Read about it in the New York Times’ Week in Review section.

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