Who is Larry Gagosian, the winning bidder for Warhol's $272m Marilyn Monroe portrait?

Mr Larry Gagosian has not revealed on whose behalf he bought the work. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - The sale of a vividly-coloured Marilyn Monroe portrait by late artist Andy Warhol for a record US$195 million (S$272 million) has drawn attention to Mr Larry Gagosian, the winning bidder and art world mega-dealer.

He has not revealed on whose behalf he bought the work.

Here is what you need to know about the businessman who managed to secure the most expensive work by an American artist sold at auction.

Who is Larry Gagosian?

The owner of one of the largest art galleries in the world, Mr Gagosian is often described as the world's most important art dealer.

The 77-year-old manages an art empire with 19 exhibition spaces spanning the world, from New York's Madison Avenue to the heart of Hong Kong's financial district.

Mr Gagosian's "mega gallery" business model has been a major force driving the art market's worldwide expansion for the past two decades.

His galleries have often put up major shows rivalling those of major museums, including a 2017 exhibition in London featuring Spanish painter Pablo Picasso's works.

What is his history?

The grandson of Armenian immigrants, he studied English literature and swam competitively at University of California, Los Angeles.

He then rose from selling posters in a parking lot in Los Angeles in the 1970s to becoming one of the art world's most powerful figures.

"I didn't have family in the business. I never worked for another gallery," he told Bloomberg News in a 2020 profile. "So by nature, I've been a survivor and a scrappy businessman."

He has represented Warhol, and sold the silk-screen Monroe image to Swiss art collector Thomas Ammann in 1986.

Mr Gagosian's stable of artists has also included Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince and Cy Twombly, many of them poached from rivals.

Who does he deal with?

Art collectors who are customers of dealers like Mr Gagosian often prefer anonymity.

Still, he is known for acquiring artwork for the rich and famous, including hedge fund manager Steve Cohen, entertainment industry mogul David Geffen and Blackstone chief executive officer Steve Schwarzman.

Mr Gagosian has declined to comment on the sale of Warhol's Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, after beating out bidders at Christie's in New York.

While he has not revealed details of his business or wealth, he is estimated to clear US$1 billion in sales annually.

What are his controversies?

Mr Gagosian's dealings with rich clientele has often put him in the middle of heated disputes, including a legal drama between New York billionaire Leon Black and a member of Qatar's royal family over ownership of Picasso's plaster Bust Of A Woman.

While Mr Gagosian claimed to have bought the sculpture for Mr Black for US$106 million, an agent for Sheikh Jassim bin Abdul Aziz Al-Thani and the Qatar Museums Authority countered that they had struck an earlier deal for the artwork for US$47.4 million.

The two sides eventually reached a settlement in 2017, with Mr Black getting the sculpture.

Mr Gagosian has also acknowledged the high-brow nature of his dealings.

"I believe in the popularising of art. But when you get right down to it, it's a bit of an elitist world," he told the Wall Street Journal Magazine in 2016. "Not just economically elitist - how many people read poetry?"

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