It was a question whispered throughout this week's contemporary art auctions at Sotheby's and Christie's: "How's Steve's stuff selling?"
Steven A. Cohen, the hedge fund billionaire, has long been a subject of fascination in the art world, as he amassed one of the world's most eclectic and valuable private collections. This season, Mr. Cohen raised eyebrows by putting up for sale the largest single group of works he has sold at one time. He also drew heightened scrutiny because the sales coincided with a guilty plea by Mr. Cohen's firm, SAC Capital Advisors, on insider trading charges.
The New York Times reports that Cohen's art has taken in $88 million. At least one piece sold for significantly more than expected, one just above the expected range and a couple of Warhol's at the bottom of their expected range.
The notion that this has anything to do with Cohen's recent legal troubles is laughable. The fines the SAC Capital has agreed to pay dwarf anything raised in the art auction. More importantly, Cohen's personal fortune is large enough that he doesn't need to sell paintings to pay the government.
DealBook gets this right:
Instead, these people say that the sales are reflective of Mr. Cohen's trading instincts. For years, Mr. Cohen, 57, has been both a big buyer and a big seller. In selling a swath of works now, Mr. Cohen is taking advantage of a frothy market and culling his collection.
Which leads to the question: if Cohen thinks this is a good time to sell, who on earth would want to buy?
—By CNBC's John Carney. Follow him on Twitter @Carney