Art & Auction Sale No Go; Tough Times for Art Magazines

In 1984, Marshall Cogan agreed to purchase Art & Auction magazine for approximately $700,000 from Daniel Zilkha, a New York-based investment banker and founder of what had become in a very short time the art market’s bible. The monthly magazine was thought to have been a gift for Mr. Cogan’s wife, Maureen, who soon moved into an office at the magazine and began to oversee the operation. Mr. Cogan, a Wall Street arbitrageur, was flush with earnings from an attempted takeover of London-based Sotheby’s that had been repelled by its directors. Along with his partner, Stephen Swid, he was deemed “wholly unacceptable” by the stuffy British auction house. But he walked away with enough cash to buy the one magazine everyone at Sotheby’s reads-doubtless worth the initial investment.

Mr. Cogan, who also purchased the “21” Club at the same time, would probably have been better off keeping his shares of Sotheby’s. According to art-world publishing sources, since their initial purchase the Cogans have pumped a sizable sum-said to be several million dollars-into Art & Auction . Yet their investment does not seem to have made the magazine profitable. Publisher Jill Bokor said that the magazine has a paid circulation of 28,000, but admitted that the circulation has never been audited. A rival publisher placed the readership at 11,000 and claimed that the magazine continues to lose money. Ms. Bokor acknowledged that it has been hard to ring a profit from Art & Auction , but claimed that will change this year.

With business not so good, the magazine was put on the market in 1994, but didn’t attract any serious interest. Then in September, a deal that would have finally freed the Cogans of the costly enterprise fell through after months of negotiations. Ms. Cogan said she was approached in February 1997 by Seth Lipsky, the editor of The Forward , one of New York’s oldest Jewish newspapers, who said he represented a group of investors interested in buying the magazine. The Cogans are personal friends of Michael Steinhardt, one of the owners of The Forward , and his wife, Judy, but he was not one of the investors, according to Ms. Cogan. “I never met nor did I know the other investors, but I did meet with Seth,” she said. Ms. Cogan maintained that she was “ambivalent” about selling Art & Auction , but she said that she was initially interested in working with Mr. Lipsky. “Seth is a lovely man,” Ms. Cogan said.

However, Mr. Lipsky was apparently not lovely enough to compensate for some shortcomings in Ms. Cogan’s eyes. She claims that she pulled out when Mr. Lipsky offered to buy the magazine for what she characterized as “a ridiculous amount of money.” According to Ms. Bokor, though, the Lipsky team had offered to pay $1 million for Art & Auction , and the Cogans had tentatively agreed to the price. “It will never be that price again,” Ms. Bokor said, adding that the magazine was no longer for sale.

One source who was approached to buy Art & Auction earlier this year maintained that the Cogans were willing to accept “considerably less than $1 million” for the magazine. This source noted that, according to financial figures on Art & Auction provided by a New York investment bank, the magazine has yet to make a profit but hopes to do so by the end of this year. “It is a business that is losing market share,” said the source, who pointed out that the only way for the publication to flourish would be to “reconsider its approach to its subject.”

Under the direction of editor Bruce Wolmer, who took over two years ago, Art & Auction has improved. But The Art Newspaper , a London-based publication founded in 1990, has encroached on the territory that the magazine has staked out. Indeed, The Art Newspaper now claims that more than half of its circulation of 30,000 is in the United States. The monthly black-and-white tabloid, which does not have the high printing and production costs of the full-color Art & Auction , continues to add the type of opinionated and authoritative coverage on the United States art market that Art & Auction offered back when it first started. The Art Newspaper recently started a new Spanish edition.

With the art market bouncing back from the doldrums of the early 1990’s, Ms. Bokor said, Art & Auction has added new readers and new ad space, which she attributed directly to the growth in business. Of course, that same market rebound may also improve the prospects of the magazine’s competitors.

Interestingly, Art & Auction may not be the only art magazine that’s up for sale. Both Art in America and The Magazine Antiques , which are owned by Sandra Brant, ex-wife of the polo-playing playboy, Peter Brant, are rumored to be on the market. A spokesman from Brant Publications said that neither magazine was for sale. But sources close to Ms. Brant said that she also finds it difficult to make a profit on her art magazines.

One of the problems may be the way these owners run their businesses. Ms. Cogan explained that Mr. Lipsky and his investors were “too corporate” for her liking. “They didn’t catch the drift of Art & Auction ,” she said. For her part, Ms. Bokor said that she had made it clear that she would quit if the sale went through. “The new owners were going to do things that I didn’t agree with,” Ms. Bokor said. “We are dedicated to the quality of the publication and if it gets done in a quirky way, nobody minds.”

Mr. Lipsky refused to be interviewed for this story, but Ms. Cogan said that he would have been a good fit because he is an amateur painter and has an interest in the art market. She added: “I want to stress that Michael Steinhardt had nothing to do with this deal whatsoever. Under no circumstances was he involved, interested, had his money in it, behind the scenes, in front of the scenes.” Ms. Cogan said this to quiet the talk that has been circulating in art circles that the truncated deal has caused friction between the Cogans and the Steinhardts.

“Friction?” Ms. Cogan queried. “I love them!”

Art & Auction Sale No Go; Tough Times for Art Magazines