Art, Elbowed

Yesterday, I was perusing the LA Times when an article in The Moveable Buffet, their Las Vegas blog, caught my eye. It succinctly mentioned how Steve Wynn had pushed his elbow through a $139M piece of art. So, I investigated further.

Folks may know who Steve Wynn is. He’s the fellow responsible for the “modern” Las Vegas. He started by revitalizing the Golden Nugget downtown, and then moved to build The Mirage and Treasure Island, as well as the Bellagio (after imploding the old “Dunes“… the first big Vegas implosion). He later sold Mirage to MGM, and bought the Desert Inn. Tearing and imploding that Vegas classic, he proceeded to build Le Reve, later called Wynn Las Vegas.

Why did he call it Le Reve. Steve Wynn, you see, is also an art collector. He had a fabulous collection at the Bellagio, and one of his favorites was Le Reve, painted in 1932 by Pablo Picasso. He liked this painting so much he named his visual spectacular show after it. Wynn loved to talk about the painting, which was a painting of Picasso’s mistress, Marie-Therese Walter.

Well, it seems that Wynn recently signed a contract to sell the painting to Steven Cohen, a hedge fund billionaire who lived in Connecticut in a house with a fabulous art collection. The price was $139M, $4 million than was recently paid for a Klimt. Before it was to be delivered, Wynn was showing off Le Reve one last time… well, Nora Ephron tells it best:

The next day, after an excellent lunch at Chinois in the Forum Mall, which is the eighth wonder of the world, we all trooped back to our hotel to see the painting. We went into Wynn’s office, which is just off the casino, past a waiting area with a group of fantastic Warhols, past a secretary’s desk with a Matisse over it (a Matisse over a secretary’s desk!) (and by the way a Renoir over another secretary’s desk!) and into Wynn’s office. There, on the wall, were two large Picassos, one of them Le Reve. Steve Wynn launched into a long story about the painting […] Wynn went on to tell us about the provenance of the painting – who’d first bought it and who’d then bought it. This brought us to the famous Victor and Sally Ganz, a New York couple who are a sort of ongoing caution to the sorts of people who currently populate the art world, because the Ganzes managed to accumulate a spectacular art collection in a small New York apartment with no money at all. The Ganz collection went up for auction in 1997, Wynn was saying — he was standing in front of the painting at this point, facing us. He raised his hand to show us something about the painting — and at that moment, his elbow crashed backwards right through the canvas.

There was a terrible noise.

Wynn stepped away from the painting, and there, smack in the middle of Marie-Therese Walter’s plump and allegedly-erotic forearm, was a black hole the size of a silver dollar – or, to be more exactly, the size of the tip of Steve Wynn’s elbow — with two three-inch long rips coming off it in either direction. Steve Wynn has retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that damages peripheral vision, but he could see quite clearly what had happened.

“Oh shit,” he said. “Look what I’ve done.”

Yup. Steve Wynn punched a hole through a Picasso. Those there vowed to keep silent, but that never happens. It showed up in the New Yorker. Wynn was actually non-plussed about the damage: “My feeling was, It’s a picture, it’s my picture, we’ll fix it. Nobody got sick or died. It’s a picture. It took Picasso five hours to paint it.” The damage voided the sales contract. The painting wound up in the hands of an art restorer, who has told Wynn that when he’s done with it, in six or eight weeks, you won’t be able to tell that Wynn’s elbow passed through Marie-Thérèse Walter’s left forearm. As for Wynn… he took this as a sign from above… and has decided to keep the picture.

Think about that the next time you elbow your art.