For every sought-after work in a gallery or bidding war at auction, there’s a winner: the collector who walks away with the work. The art world has often maintained an aura of secrecy around who might have acquired hotly contested offerings, with news passed down through the grapevine before it gets reported (if it gets reported at all).
There are exceptions, of course. Recently, Yusaku Maezawa flouted the traditional tendency toward discretion by posting his big Basquiat buy on Instagram as soon as the auction for it was over. Rarely, however, are underbidders ever known.
Over the summer, we asked everyone on the ARTnews “Top 200 Collectors” list if there was ever an artwork that slipped through their hands—one that got away. The answers were revealing. Some collectors recalled works that still haunt them years later, while others mentioned works they passed over because the timing just wasn’t quite right. Leonard Lauder told us about one work he hesitated over that eventually came back on the market—so he fixed his fate and bought it then.
Below, see a selection of what collectors missed, in their own words.
Mohammed Afkhami: A work by Sohrab Sepehri.
Edythe L. and Eli Broad: Just after we moved to Los Angeles in 1963, Edythe began visiting galleries like Ferus on La Cienega. She wanted to buy one of Andy Warhol’s soup can paintings, but she thought I would think it was a waste of money. They cost $100 each at the time. I ended up buying one for $11 million 40 years later.
Estrellita and Daniel Brodsky: Work by Lucio Fontana, a gold Yves Klein, a Mira Schendel from her “Droguinha” series.
JK Brown and Eric Diefenbach: A Robert Smithson sculpture of stacked glass.
Ella Fontanals-Cisneros: A portrait of myself by Andy Warhol. At the time it wasn’t my style. I was very young and didn’t have a feel for it.
Isabella and Agustín Coppel: Work by Luciano Fabro and Cy Twombly.
Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz: Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s Untitled (Blood), 1992.
Tiqui Atencio Demirdjian: Hanging Red Heart by Jeff Koons.
Susan and Leonard Feinstein: A Willem de Kooning “Woman” painting.
Michael C. Forman: It happened recently: a great Sigmar Polke painting that we didn’t pounce on.
David Geffen: A silver bunny rabbit by Jeff Koons.
Danny Goldberg: There are many works that I was sorry not to have bought after the event. This was either because I was uncertain about the acquisition or because the specific work I wanted wasn’t made available to me. However, I have come to the conclusion that for better or worse, there are more great artworks in this world than I will ever be able to afford, so missing out on one work has the benefit of enabling me to acquire another!
Pamela J. Joyner and Alfred J. Giuffrida: It’s a work by Kerry James Marshall called Untitled (Studio), 2014, and like all of his work, it’s laden with references to art history; he situates himself so strongly in art history in this piece. The painting does have a tremendous home at the Met and I have enjoyed seeing it in the retrospective.
Leonard A. Lauder: I hesitated on Leger’s The Typographer, and it was bought by another collector. But years later it came back on the market and I acquired it.
Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder: A 17th-century German drinking cup that was on offer at Sotheby’s in London this past July.
Liz and Eric Lefkofsky: A Martin Kippenberger self-portrait.
Petra and Stephen Levin: We were outbid at auction for a Louise Bourgeois spider sculpture.
Barbara and Aaron Levine: Air de Paris by Marcel Duchamp.
Maurice Marciano: A large Christopher Wool painting.
Cheech Marin: A painting by Jacinto Guevara.
Raymond J. McGuire and Crystal McCrary: A painting by Mark Bradford.
Julie and Edward J. Minskoff: An Andy Warhol silkscreen of Marlon Brando.
Michael Ovitz: If you have a couple hours, I’d be happy to tell you. There are two works that got away that I regret to no end. One was a Pollock drip painting, way before they became hugely impossible to buy. The other one was a Clyfford Still when they were coming on the market a lot, and I was the underbidder at an auction. It was a mistake because I misgauged—after that auction, the Still market dried out and there was very little coming on the market.
Andrea and José Olympio Pereira: An amazing pink “Bólide” by Helio Oiticica.
Cindy and Howard Rachofsky: An Yves Klein sponge painting.
Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo: Work by David Hammons.
Bob Rennie: Kerry James Marshall’s Black Painting (2003–6) . . . and every Kerry James Marshall that didn’t go to a museum.
Rubell Family: A work by Bruce Nauman.
Betty and Isaac Rudman: Not many works had gotten away when we decided to buy something, but sometimes there is somebody who is ready to pay any price. I remember when we tried to buy a painting by Tarsila do Amaral, but it was impossible to outbid the other bidder.
Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani: Hito Steyerl’s Factory of the Sun (2015). We loved this work in the German pavilion at the Venice Biennale and again at “Dreamlands” at the Whitney.
Norah and Norman Stone: When we first began collecting in the early 1990s, there was a large Andy Warhol Camouflage painting that we saw at a New York gallery.
Iris and Matthew Strauss: We do not dwell on the past, only look forward to the future. But if you really want to know, it would be a Lichtenstein.
Robbi and Bruce E. Toll: A large Pissarro, about 30 years ago. I let it go for about $100,000 and today it would be worth around $5 million.
Walter Vanhaerents: A painting by Kerry James Marshall.
Anita and Poju Zabludowicz: My biggest disappointment were all the Koons I wanted to buy. There were so many opportunities, but my husband did not like them. And in the same way, in 1992, when we just starting out and were offered the best Basquiats by Tony Shafrazi, I did not understand and stopped us from acquiring them.