Microsoft's billionaire co-founder just sold a painting for a cool $35 million to a mysterious buyer at Art Basel Hong Kong

Courtesy of Art Basel Hong KongWillem de Kooning, Untitled XII (1975
  • Art Basel Hong Kong is the premier art fair in Asia for millionaire and billionaire collectors to buy and sell art.
  • China is now the second biggest art market in the world, after the United States.
  • Art Basel Hong Kong kicked off this year with one of its biggest sales yet thanks to Microsoft co-founder and art world powerhouse Paul Allen.
  • Allen sold an abstract painting by William de Kooning for $US35 million to a very private collector.

Every few months, the world’s biggest art collectors – i.e. the world’s mega-rich – meet at Art Basel to trade millions of dollars worth of paintings, sculptures, and installations.

This year’s Hong Kong fair kicked off Tuesday with a sale of incredible magnitude: Microsoft co-founder and US-based billionaire Paul Allen sold Willem de Kooning’s abstract painting Untitled XII, 1975 for $US35 million to a private collector.

Allen is one of the most prominent and secretive art collectors in the world, with a collection worth $US750 million by some estimates. His wide collection includes masters from Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns.

The de Kooning painting had been on consignment with Lévy Gorvy Gallery, a gallery with locations in New York and London. According to Artnet, the buyer had been in talks to buy the painting prior to the show, but decided within hours of the VIP preview that he or she would buy it.

Usually, Art Basel reports more information about the collector, such as the region he or she hails from, but no such information was provided for the de Kooning buyer.

The de Kooning work is an abstract painting completed in 1975, around the period when the abstract expressionist’s most valued works have been created. The record sale for a de Kooning was $US66.3 million fora 1977 Untitled XXV sold in 2016.

“I made those paintings, one after another, no trouble at all,” de Kooning said of the period. Though the artist was in his 70s at the time, he was in love with a young woman.

De kooningCourtesy Lévy GorvyWillem de Kooning, Untitled XII (1975

De Kooning’s Untitled XII, 1975 painting wasn’t always worth $US35 million. It was sold at auction in 1987 for $US517,000. Allen purchased it in 2001 for an undisclosed price.

Art Basel is better known for its 48-year-old main event in Basel, Switzerland, which takes place in June, and for the outrageous parties associated with its US event in Miami, Florida. The Hong Kong event, while only in its fifth year, has matured as Asian collectors quickly become more important to the art market.

China is now the second largest marketplace for art after the US, according to an art market report cited by the South China Morning Post.

“I’ve only been here four years and I would never have thought that something would sell in that price range when I started my work here,” Art Basel Hong Kong’s director, Adeline Ooi, told ArtNet. “But here we are four years later. You know how time changes in Asia and everything is accelerated here.”

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