Can one ever have too many Picassos? In the case of MGM Resorts in Las Vegas, the answer is yes. That’s why the mega hospitality group recently partnered with Sotheby’s to sell 11 works by the Spanish master, all in an effort to diversify its art collection and give greater voice to artists from underrepresented communities.
The high-voltage sale had all the glitz and glamour of a Las Vegas affair, bringing in an impressive $108.8 million. The auction was broadcast live online around the globe, with telephone buyers competing with Champagne-sipping bidders in the audience. It was the first time Sotheby’s held a North American marquee evening sale outside its iconic New York City venue, transforming a Bellagio ballroom into a sumptuous scene.
All of this was set against a backdrop of industry controversy, as the cubist masterworks were hand selected in the nineties by mogul Steve Wynn, who stepped down as CEO of Wynn Resorts in 2018 amid claims of sexual misconduct. The casino magnate, who is credited with reimagining the Las Vegas experience, has denied those allegations.
Despite the provenance, the Picassos attracted strong bidding. On offer was a curated collection of paintings, ceramics and works on paper that had been displayed at the Bellagio for years. The highlight of the sale was the 1938 painting “Femme au béret rouge-orange” depicting the artist’s famed muse and lover, French model Marie-Thérèse Walter, in her signature beret. The two famously met in 1927 in Paris and went on to have a long love affair and a child together. The work carries a green and yellow palette, characteristic of Picasso’s portraits of her. It sold for $40.4 million, some $10 million above the estimate.
Also on the auction block was one of the largest works Picasso ever painted, “Homme et enfant,” which stands more than six feet tall. Featuring a man and a child, it was created in the summer of 1969 and exemplifies the looser, more gestural work of the artist’s later career. The lushly colored painting sold for $24.3 million.
With proceeds in hand, MGM Resorts intends to rebalance its art holdings by acquiring new works from women, people of color and artists from emerging nations — all in the wake of a global racial reckoning. “We welcome millions of visitors from around the world annually throughout our resorts, giving us a tremendous platform for showcasing diverse perspectives within the art community,” explains MGM Chief Hospitality Officer Ari Kastrati.
With some 900 works by 200 artists, the MGM Fine Art Collection features pieces by Bob Dylan, David Hockney, Jenny Holzer and Maya Lin. Many of those holdings, along with new acquisitions, will be displayed at MGM properties across the globe. And yet, the hospitality group hasn’t given up on Picasso entirely. It still owns 12 works by the cubist master and plans to display them in the Bellagio’s Picasso restaurant.