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Why’s Steve Cohen Showing Sotheby’s So Much Love?

Why would hedge-fund billionaire Steve Cohen lend nearly half a billion dollars worth of art to Sotheby's for a glamourous exhibition if the art isn't for sale? Art worlders were mystified by the Sotheby's announcement that twenty of top collector Cohen's paintings by Picasso, de Kooning, and van Gogh — plus Richard Prince's nude of Brooke Shields, Spiritual America — will go on view April 2 through April 14 at the auctioneer's York Avenue headquarters.

Such elaborate, museumlike exhibitions of rare works are usually meant to pull in crowds and build buzz in advance of an auction, but Cohen told the New York Times emphatically that none of the works are on the block: “This is not a way of selling my pictures.”

Mystery solved: It turns out Cohen has every motive to make Sotheby's look good. In a filing Monday with the SEC, Cohen disclosed that his SAC Capital has amassed a 5.9 percent stake in the auction house since October 1, becoming one of its larger shareholders. Sotheby's said the decision to show the Cohen works was made by the collector and Sotheby's top executives at a recent dinner party at his Greenwich, Connecticut, home.

The show of his and wife Alexandra's artworks (many bought at auction over the last several years) will be titled "Women," and features the female form in versions dating from 1890. The show is something of a boon for contemporary artists Marlene Dumas and the even younger Lisa Yuskavage, as their work will be hung alongside those of Cézanne and Matisse.

Photo: Patrick McMullan