By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
But Ovitz insisted that Boone store all the artist’s work and sell nothing until the start of the show, so he could pick the best of the lot. Not only was his demand unspeakably arrogant, it also completely ignored any long-standing commitments Boone may have had with her regular customers of a decade or more. To draw a comparison to the movie business, it would have been as if a studio asked an agent not to sell a writer’s scripts for three years, storing up four or five in the meantime, so the studio could pick the best one and not have to risk losing out on that writer’s next blockbuster. Of course, Ovitz would have expressed outrage, and so did Boone.
But Ovitz always wanted, and expected, special treatment. Out of loyalty to her regular customers, and also fear of losing her artists, Boone refused to accede to Ovitz’s demand on this score — even when Ovitz suggested that she lie to her other clients about the practice. Instead, Boone gave Ovitz what she gave other good clients — right of first refusal.
When Eric Fischl’s Master Bedroom came up for sale, Boone, who’d advised Ovitz early on that his collection needed a Fischl, recommended that he buy the new painting at the bargain price of $25,000. She explained that it was a truly great piece of art, one even she wanted to keep herself, and that Fischl was rapidly becoming a hot commodity. Yet Ovitz was undecided, mostly because the painting’s style and subject were radical departures from what Fischl had been doing two years earlier. Ovitz didn’t trust Boone’s judgment that this new direction for the artist was an exciting one. So he passed.
The painting ended up being sold to L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and Ovitz kicked himself for not having bought it. Now it had the museum’s stamp of approval, not just Boone’s unofficial praise. In 1984, just two years later, Boone had another Fischl show. This time, Ovitz came prepared to buy.
But Fischl was now a darling of the art world, and only one of his paintings hadn’t yet sold. And that one, Vanity, had a reserve on it by the Tate Gallery in London. Ovitz, however, decided he had to have that painting. He nagged Boone to let him buy it, placing phone calls to her every day for the next two weeks. But Boone wasn’t listening. After all, she already had 50 too many collectors who all wanted the Fischl just as much as Ovitz, maybe even more. Ovitz was so desperate that he was prepared to openly grovel. In a letter sent via Federal Express to Boone and dated May 23, 1985, Ovitz repeated the word please 60 times. The Fischl soon found its way into Ovitz’s collection, not the Tate’s, thanks to Boone’s machinations. She expected him to be ecstatic.
Instead, he tried to renegotiate. “And that’s $25,000, right?” he asked.
Boone was shocked. Ovitz knew the price of the painting was $45,000, and a very conservative price it was, because Fischl on the secondary market was already fetching $500,000. (One reason was that Fischl only produced three or four paintings a year.) Ovitz could turn around and sell Vanity for three or four times its price. A huge fight ensued, and Boone told him not to buy the painting. Finally, Ovitz forked over the full $45,000, but only after considerable foot-dragging. And in a move that was both insulting and demeaning, he took four months to make payment — sending her two separate checks for $22,500. In the strangest move of all, he didn’t take immediate delivery of the painting. Instead, he asked Boone to store it at the gallery because he didn’t want his children to see the nude portrait. Boone’s gallery wound up holding Vanity for a full year. Even more embarrassing, every time Fischl himself visited during that time, he’d see his painting lying there unclaimed.
“Mike Ovitz doesn’t want his painting yet?” Fischl complained over and over.
Finally, in 1986, Fischl had a retrospective at the Whitney Museum to rave reviews. Vanity, credited to “Michael and Judy Ovitz,” was one of the paintings prominently featured. Suddenly, the painting’s nudity was no longer an issue, and Ovitz wanted the work sent immediately to his house. (Two years later, during an art lecture held at Ovitz’s Brentwood Park home, the CAA chieftain told the assembled group of collectors that he had acquired Vanity directly from Fischl before the artist had ever joined Boone’s gallery. Of course, it was common knowledge that Fischl had joined Boone’s gallery in 1982, and Vanity wasn’t even painted until 1984.)
Another artist Ovitz was eager to collect was Anselm Kiefer, one of the most influential German neo-expressionists. But that meant elbowing aside already-seasoned collectors. Boone had snagged a big Kiefer show for her gallery a few years earlier; now in the spring of 1983, she discovered that coming up for sale was a magnificent Kiefer — Deutsch, done in 1978, a time when the artist was producing little. It had been bought from her by the then-head of the Cologne Museum in Germany and since shown at many world exhibitions. The collector offered it to Boone to resell on the secondary market. Boone called Ovitz first. It was an extraordinary gesture, but it was also a litmus test of their ongoing relationship. The price was steep — $150,000, a sum that Kiefer at the time had never commanded. Ovitz’s reaction was to hem and haw.
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