In a statement released earlier this afternoon, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has charged Steven A. Cohen of SAC Capital with supervising, and profiting from, the insider trading of two of his employees. The move followed years of severe scrutiny for the Connecticut-based hedge fund manager, prominent art collector, and MOCA Los Angeles trustee who recently made headlines for buying Pablo Picasso’s “Le Rêve” (1932) from Steve Wynn for $155 million. He is also perhaps best-known as the owner of Damien Hirst’s shark tank, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” which he allegedly purchased for $12 million — then a record for a living artist — only to have a new shark installed.
Last month, the Singaporean financial intelligence firm Wealth-X ranked him the runner-up in their annual list of prolific art collectors, noting that the value of his collection was second only to David Geffen and came in at $1 billion. Cohen was also conspicuous in his absence at Art Basel Miami Beach last December, which prompted a ridiculous New York Times story in which various art-world courtiers opined about the void left by certain significant patrons, Cohen among them. Quoth one gallerist of the shark embalmer’s absence:
“It’s disconcerting,” said Timothy Blum, co-owner of Blum & Poe, a gallery in Los Angeles. “We’re talking about a lot of liquid,” he added, meaning money. “A lot of liquid. I’ve never calculated it out, but he’s responsible for a significant percent of our business.”
Disconcerting isn’t even the start of it — though to better understand Steve Cohen’s seemingly fraught affinity for the art world, we recommend Gary Sernovitz’s excellent story for n+1 on the man’s parallel compulsions for trading and collecting. For his own part today, Cohen has said through an SAC Capital spokesperson that he will “vigorously” defend the charges. Here’s to hoping the affair will be squared away in time for the frenzy at London’s Frieze or at least by this year’s Miami art fairs.
Concerned gallerists and high-powered securities lawyers can read the text of the full SEC charges against Mr. Cohen here.