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Thomas Scott Kaplan, a financier who owns one of the biggest silver mines in Latin America, is spending millions on design and 17th-century Dutch paintings

He is now the world’s biggest collector of modern furniture

Cleaning up in old masters and modern design

Who is that mysterious man who in the last couple of years has single-handedly broken all auction records when buying modern furniture, whether spending $680,000 on a pair of Jean Prouvé doors at Sotheby’s in December 2004, $3,824,000 on a 1949 Carlo Mollino glass top table (right) in June last year, or most recently purchasing a Noguchi table (right) for $630,000? Flotsam can exclusively reveal that this high-spender is none other than Thomas Scott Kaplan. To add to the intrigue, Kaplan is also practically the only serious young collector of Dutch 17th-century art, a field notoriously short on new blood. Kaplan, in his early 40s, is an academic as well as investor, educated in Switzerland with two degrees from Oxford. A minerals expert, he owns one of the biggest mines in Latin America, Apex Silver, as sole stockholder in the Tigris Financial Group. So far Kaplan and his Israeli-born wife Daphne Recanati have been highly discreet with their fortune, other than sponsoring a 12-minute film about Frans Van Mieris for the recent retrospective at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, and creating the Recanati-Kaplan scholarship programme for the 92nd Street Y’s Art Centre. But plans are now afoot for the couple to build their own small museum in their Upper East Side ’hood, to display their collections of old masters and modern design. And most impressively they have managed to resist the temptation of the contemporary art market despite the constant attention of dealers, but as gallerist Jeffrey Deitch put it: “He only collects 17th-century Dutch painting? That is really so much more chic!”

So, just how much is Irving Blum worth?

The art business is a game of musical-chairs in which all the dealer-collectors pass around the pieces. So, just how much is king dealer Irving Blum actually worth? The man himself proved remarkably relaxed when posed such a question whilst quaffing Sancerre in the back room of Paul Kasmin’s gallery to celebrate his old friend, artist Jules Olitski. “How much am I worth? You should ask my wife here…probably around 350[m] by now…and what do I make on it? Well, I think it’s about 20[m] a year we’re getting at the moment.” Blum was rightly chuffed that he’s held on to the big works whilst the market just keeps climbing. “I sold the whole set of 32 Warhol Campbell soups to MoMA a few years ago for about as much as I’ll probably get for just one of them at Christie’s this month.” And so it came to be, as Blum’s 1962 torn Campbell can climbed to a delicious $11.8m at Christie’s, adding just a few digits to his $350m kitty (see p52).

Norman does his homework for Saatchi

Who should be spied racing around lower Manhattan, dashing into all the hippest galleries and whisking through the groovy likes of John Connolly Presents, than that eternal Peter Pan, Royal Academy exhibitions secretary Norman Rosenthal. For having committed himself and his institution to yet another Charles Saatchi promotional exercise, an exhibition this October of the most modish Manhattan teens entitled “USA Today”, poor Norman realised he knew absolutely nothing about any of them. Thus this lightning homework tour to ensure that when the show opens, Rosenthal will be able to wax eloquent as anyone else about all “his” latest artists.

The perfect present? Dismembered dolls

The brand new Abreu gallery is doing very well with its current Hans Bellmer show, with drawings and prints of dismembered dolls being purchased almost entirely by other artists, including a famous young New York hipster fashion photographer. Several dealers have also been shopping for gifts for their favoured artists. Even Barbara Gladstone sent an assitant to scour the show for a birthday gift for Matthew Barney, whose most recent drawings clearly paid homage to the perverse surrealist. Not that such sweeteners always work. Anthony D’Offay famously gave a Beuys drawing to Julian Schnabel but then when their relationship turned sour, D’Offay had no hesitation in immediately asking for it back again!

New York art world embraces Byars

Some of Manhattan’s smartest galleries including Perry Rubenstein, Mary Boone and Michael Werner are currently devoted to a simultaneous celebration of the late James Lee Byars (right), including his black-ink paintings. Most notable is a work long considered lost that Byars sold to MoMA curator Dorothy Miller when he walked into the museum in 1958, insisted on seeing her, demanded a one-person show and was immediately rewarded with both, not to mention said sale. These rare works have been gathered from all over, including from Byars’ mother’s Detroit garage and a cone sculpture from Christie’s. As Werner director Gordon VeneKlasen admits; “It was cheap, maybe $15,000, and it will be expensive! I would have bought it for almost any price and now I’d like to sell it for almost any price.” Signally missing are a pair of 1964 drawings which were at Sotheby’s Arcade back in 2000 with a $300 estimate. Flotsam himself was the only person to attend the auction with their purchase in mind, but was beaten out at $1,000 by the arrival of another bidder, one Annika Sundvik, owner of the contemporary art world’s favourite Chinatown haunt, the Good World Bar & Grill.

Wild child Sandler (81 years old)

Art historian Irving Sandler may seem like a venerable old guard abstract expressionist figure, but in fact he is still involved in all the latest artistic activity—not only is Sandler a sponsor of the current “Interstate” show at Socrates Sculpture Park (until 13 August), he was also recently seen dutifully standing in line on Eighth Street to watch a programme of raw videos of 70s New York punk bands and waxing nostalgic for his wild nights at CBGBs club.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘The world’s biggest collector of modern furniture'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 170 June 2006