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Art Dealer and Collector Killed in Blaze at Trump Tower

Todd Brassner, who had been a close friend of Andy Warhol, had his portrait painted by the Pop artist in 1975.

Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan (photo by Tony Hisgett, via Wikimedia Commons)
Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan (photo by Tony Hisgett, via Wikimedia Commons)

Todd Brassner, an art dealer, collector, and friend of Andy Warhol, died after a fire broke out in his Trump Tower apartment on Saturday, April 7. According to statements by the New York Fire Department, Brassner was the only civilian victim of the blaze on the building’s 50th floor; six firefighters suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the emergency.

Fire trucks outside Trump Tower on Saturday, April 7 (photo by oinonio, via Flickr)
Fire trucks and ambulances outside Trump Tower on Saturday, April 7 (photo by oinonio, via Flickr)

According to the New York Times, Brassner had been trying to sell the apartment and move out of Trump Tower since the 2016 US presidential election, which had made living in the building very difficult. “He said, ‘This is getting untenable,'” Brassner’s friend Stephen Dwire, a musician and producer, told the Times. “It was like living in an armed camp. But when people heard it was a Trump building, he couldn’t give it away.”

Brassner, who was 67, had a collection of more than 100 electric guitars, 40 vintage guitar amplifiers, 150 ukuleles, and a Pop-heavy art collection that included a 1975 portrait of him by Andy Warhol. He was introduced to the famous artist by his father, Jules Brassner, who was also an art dealer and a lighting manufacturer.

“We used to go to the Fillmore East and Max’s Kansas City,” Jodi Stuart, a former girlfriend, told the Times. “Todd got right in with the Factory and Andy Warhol. He picked em: Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, Jaguars, beautiful homes, beautiful women.” However, Brassner fell on hard times, struggling with health problems, addiction, and enormous debt. In 2015, he filed for bankruptcy.

Todd Rassner with his 1975 portrait by Andy Warhol in a photo from circa 1994 (screenshot by the author via Facebook)
Todd Rassner with his 1975 portrait by Andy Warhol in a photo from circa 1994 (screenshot by the author via Facebook)

“I am an art collector. I have bought and sold art my entire adult life,” Brassner stated in his bankruptcy filing. “My family is wealthy. Until the end of last year they helped me pursue this passion. But their support was always limited. Unfortunately, for the last few years I have been plagued with delibitating [sic] medical problems that have made it difficult for me to function. The loss of the support of my family coupled with my medical problems, caused me to fall into arrears on my mortgage, credit card payments and line of credit payments.” At the time, he estimated the value of his Trump Tower apartment at $2.5 million.

Fire trucks outside Trump Tower on Saturday, April 7 (photo by oinonio, via Flickr)
Fire trucks and ambulances outside Trump Tower on Saturday, April 7 (photo by oinonio, via Flickr)

Bankruptcy documents reviewed by Hyperallergic give a sense of the extent of Brassner’s art collection. In addition to the aforementioned Warhol portrait, which he valued at $850,000 in 2015, he also owned sculptures by Robert Indiana and Richard Artschwager, paintings by Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Lindner, and David Burluik, multiple works by famous album cover artist Mati Klarwein, photos by Edward Steichen, and a graphite portrait of William Burroughs by Jack Kerouac. He also owned the original, hand-bound screenplay for the film Blade Runner (1982).

“I intend to sell property I own to pay the claims of my creditors, in full,” Brassner wrote in his 2015 filing, though it’s unclear how much of his collection he actually sold.

As of yesterday, the extent of the damage to Brassner’s apartment and various collections was unknown. However, New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said that the apartment was “virtually entirely on fire” when firefighters first arrived at the scene, according to the BBC. Trump Tower was built in 1983, 16 years before sprinklers became mandatory in high-rise residential buildings in New York City. Donald Trump was among the developers and landlords who fought to keep the sprinkler law from being applied retroactively.

Update, 4/17/2018: The New York Fire Department revealed that the cause of the fire was overloaded power strips, adding that the situation was worsened by the absence of a fire alarm in Brassner’s apartment.

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