Home or Hot Art Gallery? How Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns Are Helping Sell L.A. Real Estate

NOEL KLEINMAN
The living room at 9127 Thrasher Ave. features paintings by Iranian artist Habib Farajabadi and Beth Letain. Compass’ Tomer Fridman and Sally Forster Jones have the $25.5 million listing.

"To get their signal above the noise" when marketing eight-figure houses, brokers are turning to art stagers or even the artists themselves: "I don't need to put a Ferrari in the garage because the buyer is looking for a quiet sense of luxury."

Ask any top real estate agent in Los Angeles what the biggest challenge in the market is, and — after the lack-of-inventory problem — they’ll tell you that marketing and selling an eight-figure home is no small task. With the influx of foreign buyers into the city’s priciest ZIP codes, turnkey developers in recent years have started relying on luxury add-ons, including staging with Bugattis, Cristal champagne cellars and vintage pinball machines. The latest trend, a more elevated version of these gimmicks, is blue-chip paintings and sculptures from renowned artists.

“In luxury real estate, we are dealing with a product that is arguably ‘art’ itself,” says John Aaroe Group’s Aaron Kirman. “Fine art is an important part of our sales strategy.” Adds The Agency co-founder Billy Rose, “Everyone is trying to get their signal heard above all the noise.”

Putting an owner’s art on the block at the same time as the house has already contributed to several record-setting deals in the past year. Buyers had the option to purchase world-class art and design pieces owned by late Paramount head Brad Grey when his Holmby Hills estate sold for $68.8 million (much of the art ended up in a Christie’s auction earlier in June). In December, $21 million of the $120 million sale of Westside Estate Agency founder Kurt Rappaport’s Carbon Beach home went toward the artwork and furniture.

More often than not, fine art staging companies, like Hollywood-based Creative Arts Partners (CAP), are the providers of pieces that turn luxury homes into a new kind of art gallery. These are not the knockoff prints and large-format black-and-white photographs of the early 2000s, once the stock-in-trade for staging before an increasing number of eight-figure listings started hitting the market in 2014.

Take the $25.5 million listing at 9127 Thrasher Ave., featuring a wrap-around infinity pool, stunning views and 16-foot ceilings, atop the Bird Streets. Upon entering the Woods + Dangaran-designed home, prospective buyers are greeted by a stainless steel sculpture by British minimalist Jonathan Monk. In a hallway, an acrylicon-canvas painting of rainfall by wunderkind Lucien Smith hangs directly across from two works by multimedia artist Aaron Garber-Maikovska. Nearby are two Jasper Johns facsimiles. In total, 32 one-of-a-kind, museum-quality artworks valued at more than seven figures have been curated for the 10,000-square-foot home.

CAP, which launched 18 months ago (ICM Partners was one of its first clients), is outfitting nearly 40 homes around Los Angeles from its private collection. With nearly 3,000 artworks by the likes of Sterling Ruby, Oscar Murillo, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Edward Ruscha, CAP pegs the collection’s value in the tens of millions of dollars. The firm — which has art-staged homes for such star buyers as Jay-Z and Beyonce, LeBron James and Ben Affleck — will lease as few as five pieces and up to dozens to developers and agents of homes that range from $5 million to $500 million; producer turned developer Nile Niami’s The One, marketed as America’s largest and most expensive residence, will list at the latter price later this year. Monthly fees, which can run from four to high-five figures, are determined by the number of pieces on loan and the total value of the curation. In almost every CAP-staged home, atleast one piece has been purchased by a prospective or an actual buyer. 

“The intersection of art and real estate is a really important place right now,” says CAP’s Alexander Ali. “We like to think that we have more concurrent exhibitions going on than anyone else in the world. In our portfolio of homes, you see an incredible range of collections that are commensurate with the value and quality of the homes.”

According to marketing director Andy Butler at John Aaroe Group, contemporary and pop art (think Roy Lichtenstein, Warhol and graffiti artist Retna) are optimal pieces to use with new, modern projects, like those designed by architect Paul McClean. Interiors are predominantly white, which offsets bold colors in the artwork. In neighborhoods like Brentwood and Pacific Palisades, where the architectural style can lean toward rustic, impressionist pieces are the better complement. “If I am trying to reach studio heads, movie moguls or A-list celebrities,” says Butler, about targeting entertainment people he hears are in the market to buy, “I’m probably going to do research on their art collection and talk to their buyers.” 

Local galleries like L.A.’s Jason Vass Gallery and West Hollywood’s Hamilton-Selway Gallery have been enlisted to help sell homes. But according to several agents, galleries are constrained in the amount of art they can lend out at one time. And often, gallery owners will shy away from staging as many deem it outside or beneath the core mandate of a gallery. 

Some individual artists, however, like painter Tiffanie Anderson, are seizing the moment. When developer Ray Nosrati was marketing a home on Brentwood’s Tiger Tail Lane, he hosted an exhibition in April for Anderson, whose clients include a range of hip-hop artists and athletes like Matt Kemp, Amber Rose, Dr. Dre and Wiz Khalifa. Anderson unloaded three pieces at the event, netting nearly $90,000 in sales; the home ended up selling several weeks later for $10.9 million. “It was really nice to see my work actually hanging in a home, because I usually only see it in my studio space,” says Anderson.

The 29-year-old artist says she is planning an event for another eight-figure listing. The Tiger Tail property “felt like a mixture of a home and a gallery,” she says. “It was minimalist, uncluttered and clean — which is my style.” 

As long as it’s also the buyer’s style, the arrangement is a win for all parties. Hilton & Hyland’s Linda May says the trend of incorporating the more refined elements into a staging will only grow. Local agents are starting to enlist top sommeliers to curate exceptional, for-sale wine collections, as well as reaching out to manuscript experts for curating libraries. “I don’t need to put a Ferrari in the garage because often the buyer is looking for a quiet sense of luxury,” says May. “One thing is for certain: The days of hanging cheesy or tacky art on the walls are over.” 

This story first appeared in the June 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.