This Apartment Is Art, And Other Specious Claims to Justify Exorbitant Asking Prices

But is it art?

But is it art?

Today, the Pierre penthouse—what may well be the most lavish penthouse in all of New York—officially hit the market for $125 million—which is definitely the most lavish asking price in all of New York. It is also a full $55 million more than the penthouse was asking (and not getting) in 2007. But it’s art, you see.

“Because this is a one-of-a-kind penthouse, it was hard to set a price because nothing really compares. I think of it, and I believe the buyer will see it, as a work of art,” Sotheby’s broker Elizabeth Lee Sample told The New York Times, which reported the listing this morning.

Regal.

Very French. Very rich.

And who can really put a price on a work of art? But of course you can, and Ms. Sample, along with Sotheby’s colleagues Brenda Powers and Serena Boardman did just that. And that price was $125 million, the most expensive asking price ever.

Moreover, if a billionaire ever emerges to snatch up this spectacular triplex atop the Pierre, he or she will need to pony up $125 million in cash, as the Pierre does not allow financing. To be supplemented, the first month and every month thereafter, with a $47,000 maintenance fee that covers two housekeepers and electricity.

What Ms. Sample said reminded us of the words of the last person who tried, and failed, to sell a $100 million penthouse.

“Art is what people are willing to pay for, and an apartment like this is like a piece of art,” Long Island real estate developer Steve Klar told The Times in July.

The public swiftly disabused Mr. Klar of the notion that his City Spire penthouse, an 8,000-square-foot octagonal triplex, was art. Even the decorator who had allegedly kitted the place out back in the 1990s renounced the apartment which, to put it mildly, looked like the kind of place a washed-up James Bond villain would live. Still, a person had to admit that it was indeed “one-of-a-kind,” the other favorite term used to describe something that is priced higher than everything else.

The Pierre penthouse triplex is, on the other hand, rumored to be simply breathtaking and includes not only a black marble staircase stretching up for the 41st floor, but what was formerly the hotel’s ballroom and is now the living room. (It is also “one-of-a-kind.”)

“Frankly, I’ve seen it and it’s worth it, if you’re into that kind of thing,” one broker told The Observer back in 1998. Of course the place, which was renovated to perfection by Australian newspaper heiress Lady Mary Fairfax in the 1990s, was asking just under $25 million back then. (The late, last owner Martin Zweig paid just $21.5 million for the penthouse in 1999.)

Among the factors in favor of its being “art” and/or selling for $125 million: cathedral windows, 360-degree views of Central Park, four terraces, a private entrance hall with Versailles pattern oak floors and a Byzantine-style mosaic floor emblazoned with Lady Fairfax’s crest (we’re not sure that last one is a point in its favor), elaborate bathrooms including a three-section marble one with gilded fixtures, the only wood-burning fireplaces in the entire hotel and a 43-by-75 foot ballroom with a “monolithic” crystal chandelier.

But can an apartment be art? Artful, certainly. And artistic, yes. A building can definitely be a work of art. And occasionally interiors might also be considered works of art, if you’re talking about the fully-realized visions by Frank Lloyd Wright or the Baroque magnificence of a drawing room at Versailles. Indeed, the Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrates the decorative arts with entire intact rooms.

But other than the breezy, socialite kind of “it’s a work of art” kind of work of art, an apartment is not, generally, a work of art. It can display works of art, and great craftsmanship, but a home, as designed to to the specifications of a very wealthy owner, generally based on some combination of personal tastes and current trends, for the purposes of living in comfort, does not, as far as we are concerned, meet the criteria. Though the Pierre penthouse is certainly beautiful.

It also remains to be seen whether any apartment, work of art or not, will be able to cross the $100 million threshold. It’s been more than a year since the $88 million sale at 15 Central Park West, and almost a year since Steve Wynn’s $70 million buy at the Ritz-Carlton. The trophy market is very strong, but the number of billionaires looking to buy in New York is not infinite. And thus far they have not queued up for buys exceeding $90 million (yeah, yeah, One57 contracts, etc., we’ll count them when they close).

Moreover, the last time the Pierre penthouse came on the market, it lingered there for four years at a substantially lower asking price because the owners could not find any buyers who would pass muster with the board. That’s right. It’s a co-op.

In the meantime, we’re bracing ourselves for the inevitable “but it’s art” quote when Steven A. Cohen formally lists his $115 million Beacon Court duplex.

 kvelsey@observer.com