Asher Edelman


Those outside the art world may remember Asher Edelman as the cutthroat 1980s corporate raider who served as a model—with Carl Icahn—for the ruthless Gordon Gecko character in the film Wall Street. Inside the art world, Edelman is best known for his shrewd collecting instincts. He began buying art in his late teens, then backed such galleries as Mary Boone and Leo Castelli in the ‘80s and, for five years in the ‘90s, ran a museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he mounted retrospectives of Basquiat and Mapplethorpe, among others, before returning to New York to launch his career as a private dealer. This past June, he opened Edelman Arts Inc. in an elegant town house on East 63rd Street with an inaugural show of the conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim. While exhibiting contemporary talents like Oppenheim and the painter Christopher Winters in the front room, Edelman continues to do backroom secondary-market deals involving blue-chip postwar works. During his financier days, Edelman taught a course at Columbia’s business school called Corporate Raiding: The Art of War, in which, until the university intervened, he offered students a $100,000 finder’s fee for spotting takeover targets. Edelman the art dealer may be less brash, but he’s no less ambitious. He says that while his gallery isn’t a carbon copy of anyone else’s, figures like Castelli and Ileanna Sonnabend are role models.

You’ve said that the market is showing scattered signs of weakness. How so?

The amount of time people take to make decisions about paintings has expanded immensely. I have a very major Basquiat now, and there are three interested buyers. I’m not trying to close on them; they’ll close on themselves, one or another of them. But people are much less worried that the piece might go away. They think, “I’ll find another one. “

You’ve also stated that you don’t mind opening your new gallery now, at the top of the market. What’s your strategy?

If you think the market is going down, and I do, then your next sale should probably be at some percentage under the last auction sale. Or you want to put the piece up at auction not at the last estimate and reserve but at something lower. And if the market isn’t going against you, you will get the old price. I use the auction houses a lot, and they use me a lot. I think the houses are very useful. I don’t think they do the research or the taste-making we do, but as a market vehicle, it’s terrific that they are there.

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