Saturday, August 28, 2010

Steve Wynn's Famous Oops

Time magazine called billionaire Steve Wynn one of the world's 100 most influential people. Certainly having suitcases full of money gives one a fair measure of leverage in circles of power, and even though the troubled economy reduced his net worth by half he still remains in the billionaire league.

You can't go to Las Vegas without seeing Wynn fingerprints everywhere. Beginning with The Mirage, Wynn established a new standard for lavish casinos on the Strip. Ultimately, through various investment and development deals, and superb timing, Steve Wynn achieved the kind of fame and fortune most people won't even dream about because it's just too far out there.

There are probably two primary reasons people go to Las Vegas. One is to gamble, and the other is to see the shows, many of which are quite spectacular. The highlight of one of my business trips to Vegas was seeing Steve Wynn's personal art collection which used to be on display at the Wynn Casino.

I do not know how extensive his personal collection really is -- he owns paintings by Cezanne, Gaugin, van Gogh, Manet, Matisse, Picasso, Vermeer, Rembrandt and Andy Warhol -- but for a very small fee I was able see a portion of it here. It was set up so that when you walked into the room, they gave you a headset which enabled you to hear Steve Wynn warmly describe each piece, it's history and what he particularly enjoyed about it. Sadly, the gallery closed in 2006, though many of the works are purportedly still on display around the resort.

The centerpiece of Wynn's collection was Le Rêve, a Picasso portrait that was the working name of this resort project. Wynn purchased the painting in 1997 for $48.4 million. In 2006 he reportedly was preparing to sell it to fellow art enthusiast Steve Cohen for $139 million, which would at that time have been the highest price paid for any piece of art. Unfortunately, two days after reaching they came to an agreement, Wynn got a wee bit too close to his masterpiece and put his elbow through it, while showing it to a group of reporters. Wynn apparently suffers from an eye disorder and failed to notice how close his elbow was to the surface.

Needless to say, Wynn still owns the painting. Hopefully he will retain enough of his eyesight to continue appreciating it.

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