Celebrity Collector Tommy Hilfiger Plays the Art Market

By James Tarmy (@jstarmy)

Source: Phillips

Source: Phillips

The fashion designer is putting five artworks up for auction, and he's got plenty more at home.

In the early 1980s, the designer Tommy Hilfiger met the artist Andy Warhol. “He brought me to his Factory and showed me his art,” Hilfiger recalled on a telephone call. “At the time, I wasn’t in a position to buy it, which is too bad, because it would have been a great investment.”

Three decades later, Hilfiger has become what he euphemistically describes as “self-sufficient” (having sold his namesake company for $1.6 billion in 2006), and he’s emerged as a dedicated art collector.

“I like to buy and sell all the time,” he said. “I’m very interested in knowing who’s who, and what something is worth, and whether or not it would have a resale value.” But, he added: “I never want to buy something and just leave it in storage.”

To that end, Hilfiger, who estimated that he has about 50 artworks spread across his houses in New York, Connecticut, and Miami, is selling five major works at Phillips’ 20th century and contemporary art evening sale on Nov. 16.

Hilfiger’s top lot is a 1987 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Devil’s head), which hung in the foyer of his Manhattan apartment. Hilfiger said he bought the work after seeing it at Art Basel Miami Beach.

“I was just totally attracted to it,” he said. “I thought it would look great in my apartment because of the red, black, and silver—it really complements the decor.”

The painting, the value of which is estimated at $3 million to $5 million, was painted during Basquiat’s preoccupation with Pablo Picasso’s art, which, Hilfiger said, makes the painting doubly exciting. “It’s really irreverent and just amazing,” he said. The Basquiat market has recently shown remarkable resiliency. Earlier this month, the artist's 1982 work, Hannibal, sold for $13.2 million at Sotheby's in London; this spring, a massive work from 1982 sold for $57 million, above a high estimate of $40 million, at Christie's in New York.

Damien Hirst's  Disintegration—The Crown of Life , from 2006. Source: Phillips

Damien Hirst's Disintegration—The Crown of Life, from 2006. Source: Phillips

The second-highest lot is a stained-glass style mosaic made out of butterflies by Damien Hirst: Disintegration–The Crown of Life, from 2006. Hilfiger bought the artwork at Phillips in 2011, bidding, he said, from the auction floor itself. (That in itself is a rarity; high-profile collectors prefer to bid by phone.) At the time, Hilfiger paid just over $1.4 million for the artwork, and now appears willing to break even on his investment. its current estimate is $1 million to $1.5 million.

“Sure, Hirst isn’t at an all-time high,” Hilfiger acknowledged. (Hirst's market plummeted after he flooded the market in a self-organized auction the day Lehman Brothers collapsed. As yet, prices for his artworks have yet to substantially recover.) “But I think it has substantial value.”

Jean Dubuffet's  Le Gommeux , made in 1972. Source: Phillips

Jean Dubuffet's Le Gommeux, made in 1972. Source: Phillips

The next two lots have identical $700,000-to-$1 million estimates. The first, an abstract figure on fiberglass by Jean Dubuffet, Le Gommeux, hung prominently in Hilfiger's Miami office for several years.

“I bought it at Christie’s,” Hilfiger said, referring to the auction house's November 2013 day sale, where he paid a total of $773,000 for the work. “The stripes are inspirational to me, because if you look at them, they’re nautical. I’m known for red, white, and blue, and I’m known for stripes, and this is a different way to look at that.” He is selling the work because “I’ve enjoyed it as much as I can,” he said, and “I’ve got it completely memorized.”

Keith Haring's  Snake and Man; Dogs and Men , executed in 1983. Source: Phillips

Keith Haring's Snake and Man; Dogs and Men, executed in 1983. Source: Phillips

The other lot in the same estimate range is a diptych by Keith Haring, which was made in 1983 from two doors in Haring's New York apartment. Hilfiger said he bought them from the Paris-based dealer, Enrico Navarra.

“I’ve had them for almost 10 years,” he said. “We’ve enjoyed them quite a bit, so now someone else can enjoy them.”

One of the 10 works from Andy Warhol's Cowboys and Indians series, from 1986.

Finally, not only has Hilfiger been able to realize his dream of owning a Warhol, he's now in a position to make money by selling one. The last lot is a collection of 10 color screen-prints by Andy Warhol, which carries an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. “I bought those from [art dealer] Brandon Davis in Beverly Hills when I was really assembling a lot of Warhol," Hilfiger said. “I’ve had them in three different homes, and I thought it was time to rotate them out.” 

And what will they be replaced by?

“I don’t know,” Hilfiger said. “If you buy a great piece of art from a great artist, it’s better than any investment you can possibly make.” Or at least, he appended, “It’s as good as any investment.”

This article provided by Bloomberg News