Art Basel 2015

Helly Nahmad, Fresh Out of House Arrest, Is Selling a $50 M. Rothko at Basel

Mark Rothko, "Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange)," 1955, at Nahmad's booth.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange), 1955, at Nahmad’s booth.

Just weeks after serving out house arrest following a stint in the big house, Helly Nahmad has returned to the family business here in Basel, and it’s no quiet re-entry. His gallery’s booth features a smattering of Calders on the front platform, and then two stunning Picassos in the back: Homme a la pipe et nu couche, from 1967 and Mousquetaire aux Oiseaux II, 13 January 1972, from 1972. And they come with some serious price tags: $16 million for the former, and $12 million for the latter.

But the offerings get even more bananas in the semi-private room. Nahmad has another Picasso, Joan Miró’s Soiree snob chez la princesse, and the Monet water lily work Nympheas avec Reflets de Hautes Herbes. Then the gorgeous and bonkers-expensive masterpiece: Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange), from 1955. It’s priced at $50 million, making it almost certainly the most expensive work in the fair, and if it sells, it will make the $32 million paid for a Warhol at Skarstedt last year at Basel look like a few measly Euros.

Let’s say the dealer, who was indicted for running an illegal, celebrity-ridden gambling ring out of his apartment in the Trump Tower has made a big bet at Basel. (Sorry.) It remains to be seen whether or not all these expensive masterworks will sell in such an environment. For instance, the price point at the Zwirner booth, immediately next to Helly Nahmad, hovers around a million, and they nearly sold out their booth. As of this afternoon, the Picassos and the Rothko have yet to find a new home.

But there’s no doubt that the booth is one of the most stunning at the fair, and it was packed throughout the day. As for Nahmad, he looked healthy, and he was perfectly affable and chatty.

“Thank you so much for coming,” he said as a collector’s adorable dog scampered dangerously close to the Rothko.

I asked him why, exactly, he went with these works in his return to the game, perhaps expecting some sort of story of redemption.

“I just thought the Rothko goes great with the water lilies, and that they play off each other so well,” he said, in a tone as casual as if he were describing kitchen appliances. “You know, Rothko was an abstract expressionist, and in many ways Monet was also an abstract expressionist, so they just look great here.”

Take note, those of you with $100 million lying around.

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