MGM Resorts cashed in 11 Picassos for a total of $109 million via a Sotheby’s auction at the Bellagio in Las Vegas on Saturday.
The artworks were part of the MGM Resorts Fine Art Collection, which was started by Steve Wynn. MGM acquired the works when it bought the Mirage from Wynn in 2000 for $4.4 billion.
The centerpiece of the auction was Picasso’s 1938 painting, “Femme au beret rouge-orange” (Woman with the Red-orange Beret), a portrait of the artist’s lover, Marie-Therese Walter. It surpassed auction house valuations of between $20 million to $30 million, ultimately selling for $40.5 million.
Another portrait, “Homme et Enfant” (Man and Child), sold for $24.4 million. Along with nine paintings under the hammer, there were small ceramic works that went for three or four times the estimate, one for $2.1 million, Reuters reports.
All artworks were purchased anonymously, although Leonardo DiCaprio was spotted among the white-glove crowd. The Hollywood star is known to be a fan of the Modernist master, and he may have been on the lookout for a replacement.
DiCaprio was forced to surrender one of his Picassos to the US government in 2017 after the dealer he bought it from was implicated in the 1MDB Malaysian government embezzlement scandal.
MGM has said at least some of the money raised will be reinvested into the company’s fine art collection, so that it encompasses works by women, people of color, and other “underrepresented communities.”
The 900-strong collection currently contains works by David Hockney, Henry Moore, Frank Stella, Bob Dylan, and numerous contemporary artists.
Five of the paintings sold on Saturday had, until recently, adorned the walls of the Bellagio’s flashy French-Spanish restaurant, Picasso. They won’t have to change the name of the joint, though – it has 12 more Picassos to spare.
Art has become increasingly important to MGM, which now considers itself to be more about the “experiential business” than the gambling business. Today, 70 percent of its revenues come from these non-gaming “experiences.”
It even has an executive director of Art and Culture, Tarissa Tiberti. Tiberti’s job involves managing the collection, commissioning new works, and overseeing MGM’s visual arts-focused partnerships.
The art budget is part of the entire experience budget,” Ari Kastrati, MGM Resorts’ Chief Hospitality Officer, told the Financial Times on Sunday. “When we commit to designing something new, art is at the epicenter of that decision.”
The man who started this ball rolling, Steve Wynn, whose Mirage resort arguably kicked off the diversification of Las Vegas, quit the casino business under a cloud in 2018. That’s after he was accused in a Wall Street Journal exposé of engaging in a decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct towards female staff members.
Wynn has since reinvented himself as a dealer in multimillion-dollar fine art. His new company, Wynn Fine Art, currently has Picassos, Matisses, and Warhols for sale.
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