A collector once branded the art world’s “sith lord” and blamed for inflating prices has amassed a multi-million dollar collection of 25,000 pieces by emerging artists.
Los Angeles-based Stefan Simchowitz, who started collecting unique stamps as a child in South Africa, adopted unorthodox ways of collecting art that earned him a dubious reputation in the art world.
Instead of collecting from galleries, the 52-year-old reaches out to unknown artists directly on Facebook and Instagram, offering to buy their work before then selling it to other collectors.
His next buyers then sell the artwork at auction for big profits, meaning the works of new, emerging artists are sold on the market for unsustainably high prices, causing “career blowouts,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
Stefan Simchowitz adopted unorthodox ways of collecting art, which earned him a dubious reputation in the art world. Instead of collecting from galleries, the 52-year-old contacts unknown artists directly on Facebook and Instagram and offers to buy their work before then selling it to other collectors.
A woman poses with a work of art by Tauba Auerbach – one of the first artists in which Simchowitz invested
Art critic Jerry Saltz once described Simchowitz as a sith lord — after saying that “any attempt to further control the system, unlike me, will suffocate them and suffocate the artist.”
Some of the earliest works Simchowitz acquired, after perusing Manhattan’s SoHo galleries while working as a film producer in New York, included art by Tauba Auerbach and Sterling Ruby.
Auerbach’s pieces have fetched as much as $2.285 million in recent years, while Ruby’s work has sold for $1.78 million at auction in the past.
Simchowitz’s goal, however, is to find budding masterpieces when they’re still cheaper than $5,000.
He also began funding artists and helping them produce work that he bought and sold, such as Jonathan Monk’s rabbit sculptures ‘The Inflated Deflated’ and Petra Cortright and Lily Ramírez’s striking colorful pieces.
Cortright – whose shared art life with Simchowitz began in 2011 when he messaged her on Facebook. Her bright works often cost as much as $65,000.
The artists he supports include Serge Attukwei Clottey, who gives Simchowitz $15,000 a month for supplies and other expenses.
Clottey’s work has recently been featured in exhibitions in Venice and Saudi Arabia, and his work has sold for as much as $500,000 in the past.
The art of Petra Cortright. She has been supported by the collector for more than ten years
Simchowitz’s goal is to find budding masterpieces when they’re still cheaper than $5,000
Simchowitz has several 11,000-square-foot warehouses in Los Angeles where he stores his immense collection, which includes more than 25,000 works of art. In 2021 he opened his first gallery in California.
Together with attorney Brian Ludlow, the pair founded Creative Art Partners, an art rental company that now ships 3,500 works of art to more than 180 locations.
Their artwork, which customers pay for monthly, adorns the walls of social clubs and luxury hotels across the US. Sometimes the rents end in sales — and last year the company made $10 million for Simchowitz alone.
It’s a way for Simchowitz to keep his artworks moving in public, transforming them into a service that can be more lucrative than just sitting away unseen in an archive or storage space.
And Simchowitz isn’t just paying young artists to create, he’s now setting up his own complex in Pasadena, California, where artists can use studio space, pottery kilns and exhibition space.
Speaking to WSJ, Simchowitz said, “I’m one of the bad guys that ends well. Maybe I started out as a devil, but it’s better to do that and end up an angel than the other way around, right?’
Despite the good he does for emerging artists, there are traditionalists within the art world who refuse to work with him and deny that he is a trendsetter in his own right.
Artist Lily Ramirez, whose standout pieces have been snapped up by the art collector in recent years
Artist Petra Cortright – whose collaboration with Simchowitz began in 2011 when he messaged her on Facebook. Her bright works often cost as much as $65,000
Dealer Tim Blum tells him he doesn’t want to sell anything – and finds it ‘creepy’ that Simchowitz finances young artists.
“Just thinking about it makes my stomach sick,” he said.
In contrast, Jeffrey Deitch, former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, told WSJ about Simchowitz: “No one is trying anything like Stefan today.
“He’s building his own art empire.”
Former auction director Amy Cappellazzo said, “Stefan makes our systems more efficient and even more democratic.”
Simchowitz told WSJ, “You’re not supposed to make money from art.
“You should sell companies and use the money just to buy art, but that never made sense to me.”