For $15,000, Collectors Line Up to Meet Damian Loeb

Love Boat producer Douglas Cramer has placed an order to buy the next thing that 28-year-old painter Damian Loeb does.

Mr. Cramer, a board member of the Museum of Modern Art, would have liked to have bought one of the paintings in Mr. Loeb’s current show at the Mary Boone Gallery on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, but the eight works-priced at $15,000 apiece-were snatched up before the show even opened on Jan. 7. Michael Lynne, president of New Line Cinema, and Jerry Speyer, a co-owner of Rockefeller Center and a Museum of Modern Art trustee, were two of the buyers.

Mr. Loeb’s work was doled out very carefully by Ms. Boone to collectors hungry for the creations of a new breed of young painters-a sign that she is grooming him to be her next Jean-Michel Basquiat, “without the drugs,” she said. She began introducing him to some of her regular clients in November at a dinner party she gave for Ross Bleckner. There, Mr. Loeb was seated next to Mr. Cramer.

“I found him charming and lively and asked if I could go to the studio and see the work, and it was just that simple,” said Mr. Cramer, who over the years has collected works by Julian Schnabel, David Salle and Eric Fischl, artists whom Ms. Boone helped make famous and rich.

Like Basquiat, Mr. Loeb is a rangy, self-taught artist. He dropped out of high school, became a fixture in downtown clubs and learned to paint by reading a book called Techniques of the Great Masters of Art and going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to look at the real thing. His work borrows the techniques of certain acknowledged masters-and images he finds in popular culture-and turns them into his own golden currency that infuriates critics and excites collectors.

Reviews of the Boone show have tended to compare Mr. Loeb’s work to recent Benetton ads and 1940’s magazine illustration. The show has been summarily dismissed by The New Yorker , The New York Times and The Village Voice . The two works Mr. Cramer was interested in have especially bothered critics. Love Story depicts a group of voyeuristic Santa Clauses on a bench in the Broadway-Lafayette Street subway station looking at a mangled young woman who is lying in a pool of her own blood, and Fair Market , a disquieting painting of a shirtless black man with a gun in his hand standing in front of a supermarket and behind a pickup truck with a snarling dog hanging out the window.

“To me, he is at his best when you have that urban violence,” said Mr. Cramer. “I think that Damian is one of the three or four particularly exciting young artists who are working now out of the 10 or 20 who are in his area whose work I have seen.”

Mr. Loeb’s career is not without the risk-taking element of a star like Basquiat. There was a swirl of rumors about his defection from Deitch Projects to Mary Boone last December. He told The Observer that Jeffrey Deitch had delayed giving him a solo show. The problem was copyright issues, considering that many of his images are taken from television, films or published photographs. “I looked around and I saw other people doing that,” Mr. Loeb said. “And I said, ‘I don’t understand what’s different about mine.’ All they could come up with was I’m a much better painter than most of the people and therefore it is a very accurate representation. I said, ‘That’s the whole point. If you are going to use a vocabulary, it is best to pronounce the words correctly.'”

Said Mr. Deitch: “I wanted him to keep working until we got a group of works that I thought were appropriate to the show.”

Now Ms. Boone’s fast track is the right place for him. “Mary placed things as she saw was most advantageous,” he said of the sellout. “Which was the kind of thing that made me interested in her, her ability to get these heavy hitters.… I am going to have some dinners soon so I can get to know some of the collectors better.” Mr. Loeb has been living in a loft on Lespinard Street in TriBeCa.

“He’s a young artist. I don’t think one makes any claims beyond that,” said Ms. Boone. “Even when there is big interest, there is risk. That’s part of the excitement.”