Is it possible that the art and real estate market will finally hit a ceiling? It’s hard to imagine a higher benchmark than the one set by the nation of Qatar, which has broken record after record in what even Phillips de Pury’s business development officer called “mind-boggling” expenditures. Who can top the $1 billion per year spending of Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani of Qatar?
In Qatar’s latest momentous deal, the nation has purchased Wildenstein & Co’s Beaux-Arts headquarters for $90 million. The Wildenstein family has been one of the art world’s most powerful dealers for five generations; Qatar’s Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani topped this year’s Art Review Power 100 list for her annual headline-grabbing art investments estimated at $1 billion per year.
Initially billed as the most expensive residential buy in NYC history, the townhouse is, in fact, a commercial property, and will now be used by Qatar as a consulate and to hold some of its valuable art collection. (To put the news in perspective, the townhouse cost not even half the price of Cezanne’s “Card Players,” on which, in 2011, the Sheikha spent a record-breaking $250 million.) The sale comes after years of legal troubles for the gallery, including at least six lawsuits sparked by a money-laundering investigation into President Guy Wildenstein, which led to at least three police raids seizing works stolen from Jewish families by Nazis.
But even a scandal of such epic proportions hasn’t dealt a fatal blow to Wildenstein & Co. Following the sale, the business will remain intact: Guy Wildenstein will continue on as President and David Wildenstein as Vice President, respectively. The family is also consolidating its three adjacent buildings on East 64th Street and Madison Avenue, as part of a vague new project to be completed in 2015.
Anyway, yesterday the news prompted AFC’s (basement) offices to imagine a future in which we’re all living in tiny holes in Brooklyn, as the rich expand vast, uninhabited luxury spaces down through the boroughs. Oh, wait…