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
“Well,” he gulped, “I’ll be in Chicago in a day. Call me then.”
The clock was ticking for Boone, who had received the painting on consignment. One day stretched into two, and then three. A week went by and still Boone was unable to get Ovitz to make a decision. Every time she’d talk to him, he would say, “I don’t know. Let me think about it.” Finally, she could wait no longer and she tracked him down in a hotel in London. When she rang Ovitz’s room number, she was surprised when Ovitz client Bill Murray answered the phone. The actor started doing shtick.
“Don’t you understand? Mike is married,” Boone remembered Murray telling her. “He doesn’t want to have your phone calls all the time.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Boone replied, outraged. “This isn’t me chasing Mike Ovitz. This is about him making a decision about a goddamn painting!”
Murray called out to Ovitz, “Mike, you’d better get on the phone now.” Immediately, Ovitz picked up. Boone launched into an angry diatribe. “Listen, your business is full of homecoming queens from Omaha, Nebraska, that want to be movie stars. Well, my business is full of people that made a couple of dollars and want to be great collectors. When you want to be serious, you call me.”
With that, Boone hung up the phone.
Ovitz did not buy the Kiefer.
(Ironically, it came on the secondary market again in 1988, and, once more, Boone had control of its sale. She sold it to Angeleno Eli Broad. The price of the painting? One and a half million dollars — 10 times what Ovitz was asked to pay for it just five years earlier. The Kiefer became one of the highlights of Broad’s collection.)
After that phone call to London,the relationship between Boone and Ovitz chilled. Still, 18 months after Boone had hung up on him, Ovitz called her one day and asked contritely, “Can I talk to you?” Ovitz explained his hesitancy in buying the Kiefer and apologized. He acknowledged that he still had a lot to learn about the art world.
What he didn’t say was that he was learning it from Boone’s rival gallery owner, Arne Glimcher.
It was inevitable that the two men would link up. Ovitz and Glimcher shared the same striving social ambitions; both had reinvented themselves from nobodies into men of wealth and seeming sophistication. Like Ovitz, Glimcher came from a middle-class background. Born into a Midwestern Jewish family, Glimcher grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, began studying art, then borrowed $2,500 from his brother and opened a small Boston gallery called Pace, where he showed local artists. Eventually he moved to New York and was introduced into the heady New York art world. Soon Glimcher was buying upthe estates of Mark Rothko, Picasso and others at his elegant 57th Street Pace gallery.
It wasn’t long before, Glimcher and Boone were locked in a death match, especially after Schnabel met Glimcher at a Picasso exhibit, then jumped from downtown Boone to uptown Pace. At the time, defections of artists between galleries still had certain ground rules, which is why the old-school Castelli — for whom loyalty was everything — slammed down the phone on Schnabel upon hearing the news. It was around this time that Ovitz discovered Glimcher, thanks to Ovitz confidant and literary agent Mort Janklow, who made the introduction. Glimcher was not only Janklow’s art dealer but also a close friend, and Pace was conveniently located across the street from Janklow’s office.
Eager to replace Boone, Ovitz glommed on to Glimcher. And for good reason: Ovitz wanted special treatment, and this time he got it. He had offered that deal to famed dealer Larry Gagosian, who’d rejected it. He had offered that deal to Boone, who’d rejected it. He had offered that deal to Castelli, who’d rejected it. “I’d like to have a better relationship with you,” Castelli recalled Ovitz saying again and again.
“‘Well, you know what I have,’” Castelli said he’d replied. “‘You have to just keep in touch with me. Otherwise, I can’t constantly think of you.’ And then he disappeared.”
The deal, according to Castelli, was this: Ovitz tried to buy his art at cost, minus any dealer’s commission.
“He wanted to pay as little as possible, period,” Castelli told me. “No one was as bad as him. Now, some are hagglers. They want a 10 percent discount, no matter what, and if it’s possible to give to them, one does. If not, not. But generally speaking, they are not as bad as Ovitz. That’s just his nature.” (Ovitz insisted to me that paying commissions, or not paying commissions, was the responsibility of the artist, not the buyer.)
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