How Mega-Collector Ronald Perelman Offloaded Nearly $1B in Artwork

Documents reveal that some of the investor's sold works match those offered in recent high-profile auctions.

Ronald Perelman (bald middle aged man) smiling and holding a drink
Ronald Perelman in Sag Harbor in 2017. Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Ronald Perelman, the billionaire investor known for his vast art collection, has in recent years sold off nearly $1 billion worth of artwork by the likes of Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Pablo Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Many of these transactions were conducted through auction houses like Sotheby’s, while other private sales went to fellow prominent collectors like hedge fund manager Ken Griffin.

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Recently unsealed court filings reveal Perelman offloaded seventy-one works valued at $963 million between March of 2020 and January of 2022. Among the more than two dozen artists represented in the sales were 20th-century icons like Roy Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly, Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha and Mark Rothko.

Perelman, who currently has an estimated net worth of $1.9 billion, was once America’s wealthiest businessman shortly after he acquired cosmetics company Revlon for $2.7 billion in 1985. But the investor’s Revlon shares, which he used as collateral for loans, have taken a hit in recent years owing in part to the Covid-19 pandemic. Perelman put his artwork on the market after Deutsche Bank issued a margin call, a term referring to requests for more equity to be added to a brokerage account, as reported by Bloomberg. Of the total art sale proceeds, around $910 million went towards paying creditors.

While Perelman has also sold off assets that include property, private jets and his furniture collection, details of his art transactions were only recently divulged in court filings regarding ongoing litigation over a 2018 fire at the billionaire’s Hamptons home. Two years after the incident, holding companies for Perelman sued a group of insurers for allegedly refusing to pay out $410 worth of damages caused to five paintings that Perelman claimed “lost their luster” after exposure to heat, smoke and moisture.

Court documents reveal that some of the investor’s sold works match those offered in recent high-profile auctions. Joan Miró’s Femme au chapeau rouge and Henri Matisse’s Danseuse assise dans un fauteuil, for example, were auctioned off by Sotheby’s in 2020 for £22.3 million ($28.5 million) and £6.5 million ($8.3 million) respectively.

Ken Griffin’s private transactions with other art collectors

Perelman also sold artwork to Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of hedge fund Citadel. In deals reportedly brokered by gallerist Larry Gagosian in December of 2020 and July of 2021, Griffin acquired Marden’s Letter About Rocks #2 and River 4 for $30 million and $9.5 million respectively. Court filings shed light on negotiations over the paintings. “I’m really pushing Perelman, but he really wants $10M. Do you want to try $9.5M to kind of meet him in the middle?” reads a June 2021 email to Griffin from a Gagosian employee.

SEE ALSO: The Ins and Outs of Commissioning a Work of Art

Insurers pushing back against Perelman’s claims that his artwork was damaged in the 2018 fire urged Griffin last year to testify on his experiences purchasing the Marden works. In a subsequent deposition conducted in October, the Citadel head revealed he knew of Perelman’s precarious financial situation at the time. “There were rumors that Ron was facing financial challenges and was looking to liquidate certain assets,” said Griffin, adding that he was unaware that both Marden paintings had been involved in a fire at Perelman’s Hamptons property when he acquired them.

Griffin claims he visited both the Hamptons estate and Perelman’s Manhattan property to view his artwork. “Larry Gagosian had reached out to me at some point in time saying would I be interested in buying Ron Perelman’s collection,” he said in court documents. “I saw a lot of art. My understanding was pretty much everything was for sale.”

This isn’t the first time Griffin has been involved in high-profile art deals with other wealthy collectors. Nearly a decade ago, he paid $500 million for two paintings by Willem de Kooning and Pollock from the collection of entertainment mogul David Geffen, which made headlines as one of the largest private art deals in history. Griffin’s art holdings, which he has spent some 26 years amassing, include pieces by the likes of Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Robert Ryman. The Citadel head has spent well over $1 billion on artwork, said Griffin during his deposition, noting that he is “offered a painting almost every day.”

How Mega-Collector Ronald Perelman Offloaded Nearly $1B in Artwork