“Great artists are like loaded guns. They are dangerous in anybody’s hands.” After spitting out that bit of philosophy, Peter Brant sat back in his seat and let a wry little smile work its way across his dark face. The tousle-haired reveler, newsprint tycoon, polo player and husband to supermodel Stephanie Seymour was referring to the pitfalls of collecting art by living artists, at a symposium at Christie’s auction house on June 2. He seemed to be acutely aware that many in the crowded room had showed up just to hear what would come out of the outspoken mouth of the self-proclaimed “McEnroe of polo” next. Glancing down at his slightly worn English shoes, Mr. Brant added, “The problem with being a collector in terms of investing is that they always have old shoes, like I have, because they never have time to buy new ones-or the money.”
Mr. Brant, 50, knows the art field. He bought a Marilyn directly from Andy Warhol at age 20. His blue-chip collection also includes works by Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat and six or seven other recently minted stars. Most of them are early pieces from the days when the artists were just starting out (and their work was cheap). He was an original backer of Interview magazine and co-produced the movie Basquiat ; he says that some of his closest friends are artists.
“Warhol probably influenced me more visually than anyone,” he told The Observer in an interview after the symposium.
But it was Mr. Brant who was supposed to do the influencing at Christie’s. Neal Meltzer, Christie’s director of contemporary art, had invited Mr. Brant-with Andrea Rosen, a Chelsea art dealer; Thea Westreich, a SoHo art consultant; and Paul Schimmel, chief curator of Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art-in order to interest potential young art patrons in an auction the following night.
“Peter is a great draw,” said Mr. Meltzer, 30, who didn’t seem disturbed by the scuffles that took place on the dais.
“At first I was a little hesitant about going on the panel because there were some art advisors there and I am not very pro art advisors,” Mr. Brant said after the symposium. “I just really think [collecting art] is something you ought to do yourself. If you have to go to an advisor for it, you really shouldn’t be doing it.”
Mr. Brant, who is known for striking his opponents when he plays polo, restrained himself in a way that he is not able to do on the polo grounds. At one point when Mr. Brant gave his opinion of art consultants, Ms. Westreich warned him: “Watch it, Peter.” She crossed her legs and moved away from him.
When asked whether he is as competitive in art collecting as he is in polo, Mr. Brant said: “I think one’s character on the athletic field does not have to have anything to do with the way they are in real life. Yeah, I am competitive and to be a collector you’ve got to be somewhat competitive, otherwise you don’t pursue what you are trying to accomplish. If you have a vision and you are trying to accomplish something, you have to be competitive, or things are going to slip by you.”
Mr. Brant also showed up at the Christie’s auction on June 3, where he was apparently willing to let things slip by him. The auction, which included works by Mr. Schnabel, David Salle, Gerhard Richter, Cindy Sherman and a collaborative work by Basquiat and Warhol, seemed to attract dealers, who were buying for stock at high prices, more than green collectors.
All of the lots in the auction were sold that night, said Christopher Burge, Christie’s chairman and the evening’s auctioneer. A sandy-haired Brit who practices his auction calls on the subway on his way to work from his loft in SoHo, Mr. Burge was standing in front of Seestück , an elegiac 1969 painting by Mr. Richter of the sea and sky that brought a record $2.5 million for the artist. Mr. Burge said he has never experienced a sellout in a sale of property from various owners.
As to where all of the young collectors were, those who were going to follow in Mr. Brant’s footsteps, Mr. Meltzer said they were on the phone. “I had a man my age on the phone who was willing to pay $400,000 for a Basquiat,” he exclaimed.
Dennis Oppenheim, Engaged?
During the 1960′s, Dennis Oppenheim was in the vanguard of sculptors who were rearranging the earth and using their own bodies as works of art. Once, he rested a book on his bare chest when sunbathing and then took a photograph of the mark that the book left on his burnt body. Mr. Oppenheim, who turns 60 in September, has left all of that establishment-bashing behind and turned his hand to unsettling the institution of marriage.
A new Oppenheim sculpture, Engagement , is being installed on June 7 on the cement median strip just north of the Flatiron Building on 23rd Street where Broadway and Fifth Avenue intersect. Engagement is a pair of sculptures-one 30 feet tall and the other 28 feet tall-representing engagement rings that are slightly off-kilter. At night, they will be lit up to look like they have diamonds in the tops.
“This work is not as radical in a structural or formal way, or even in terms of content,” Mr. Oppenheim said in an interview with The Observer in which he referred romantically to himself and his pieces in the third person. “The earlier work was more of a radical position in regards to traditional art. This work doesn’t seem to be afraid of asserting some more conventional systems once again. It doesn’t take on as an attack the kind of sculpture that in 1968 one was trying to bury or disprove or what have you. That agenda seems no longer current. I still think the work wants to be rigorous, and it is critically rigorous. But I am aware that the issues that were floating around in the late 1960′s during the elevation of conceptual art are no longer pertinent. They are no longer as vital as they were then.
“Things are only radical when they are radical, and they are only radical for a length of time. Then they become soft.… Now, there doesn’t seem to be the same sort of recognition that what you are doing is important. One is still given that little jolt when things kind of connect in a certain way that precipitates an artwork. I am still trying to seduce myself, though. I want the work to win my attention.”
Mr. Oppenheim said he has been married “a few times.” He placed the rings in a precarious position with each other to question the stability of a union between two people. “I didn’t want it to seem a reinforcement of the durability of the union as much as the possible pitfalls of the union, since I’ve been in that position myself.” The artist said he tried to have the pieces installed outside the City Hall office of the Justice of the Peace, but could not.
“I’m sure if I do marry again,” Mr. Oppenheim said, “it would probably fall into the same trap.” The installation will only be up six months. The artist plans to ask for an extension from the city for another six months.