Wealthy X-rated art collectors deter homebuyers

Sex sells, but for some New York homebuyers, what passes for art these days is too blue.

“I would like to [insert a profane term for ejaculation here] in your heart,” reads a bright, rainbow-colored sign in the dining room at 18 W. 11th St.

Built on the site of the infamous Weather Underground explosion of 1970, the West Village Townhouse is a chic, 6,000-square-foot, four-bedroom property currently on the market for $19 million.

It’s owned by WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey, who installed the cheeky word artwork by John Giorno, which retails for around $1,500.

The house’s agent, Clinton Stowe of Compass, says he never takes the painting down for exhibitions and that it mostly elicits “giggles, laughs, giggles and sometimes photos.” But he admits that the vulgarity deters many buyers.

“I definitely believe that shocking art can negatively impact the sale of a home, including lowering the price,” added Lorynne Cadman, a real estate agent at Century 21 Leading Edge Realty in Toronto. “Buying a home is an emotional purchase. Something as simple as a ‘bad vibe’ in a painting could completely put someone off buying a house.”

A blurred piece of art on the wall of a house.
An explicit work of “word art” can be seen in the listing photos of the former Weather Underground hideout.
Douglas Elliman

Proactive art has always been used to épater the bourgeoisie, but nowadays a bevy of bourgeois collect the art created at their expense.

The stratospheric appreciation of contemporary artworks and the relaxation of mores have made collecting even XXX-rated images as practical a matter as playing blue-chip stocks.

Artists like John Currin, the Yale-educated artist known for his grotesque nudes and cartoonish sex hoopla, can sell their works for more than $10 million apiece. It makes a statement at the Brooklyn Museum, but in a living room it’s unsettling, say realtors and their clients.

“Buying a home is an emotional purchase. Something as simple as a ‘bad vibe’ in a painting could completely put someone off buying a house.”

Lorynne Cadman, Realtor at Century 21 Leading Edge Realty

When Century 21’s Cadman toured a newly Grade II listed three bedroom home, she got a bad shock.

The man cave in the basement of the house looked more like a horny serial killer’s lair, with several photos of disembodied female parts hanging around the room in neat little 18″ x 24″ frames.

“Most of these were nipples,” Cadman said. “There were lips too, but not just any lips, if you know what I mean!”

She also recalls photos of mouths doing lewd things like licking a lollipop and sucking on a popsicle. Despite the sizzling close-ups, Cadman’s clients ended up selling for $628,000.

“The kicker is when we came back for the last visit before the closure, the owners were home,” Cadman said. “The smile and teeth of the lady’s mouth in the photos match those of the seller.”

Douglas Elliman’s Lindsay Barton Barrett says her jaw dropped after entering a pornography-crammed one-bedroom loft on 23rd Street.

Exterior view of 18 West 11th Street.
This modern fire shack at 18 W. 11th St. is on the market for $19 million.
Douglas Elliman

“There were large format photographs — full frontal nudity — on every single wall,” Barrett said. Her conservative client, who blushed, was not amused. They left without making an offer.

In order to close the deal, many brokers ask their clients to clean up their actions.

Compass’ Vickey Barron says she had a client whose expensive Tribeca condo was crammed with paintings of women that “would definitely make buyers blush.”

She told the seller to keep her dirt stash.

Nest Seekers agent Mike Fabbri also hides his clients’ racy art. That’s what he had to do when he sold the Brooklyn Heights condo of Bob Flanagan, the doll maker behind Toonces, the terrifying traveling cat from “Saturday Night Live.”

“He had … a 9 foot tall statue that he was made out of [Michelangelo’s] David – when David was middle-aged and it didn’t work out. It was basically a huge statue of a naked fat guy. I had to put a sheet around it for demonstrations.”

Mike Fabbri, an agent of Nest Seekers

“He had all his favorite dolls in the apartment,” Fabbri said, “including a 9-foot tall statue that he made out of [Michelangelo’s] David – when David was middle-aged and it didn’t work out.”

“It was basically a huge statue of a naked, fat guy,” he said, noting that the pot-bellied David’s manhood stood out. “I had to put a sheet around it for demonstrations.”

And when Steven Gottlieb, an agent for Coldwell banker Warburg, was faced with a phallic hurdle in a Harlem condo he represented, he quickly neutered the problem.

“Not only were the subject’s genitals fully visible at eye level, but the painting was bloody,” Gottlieb said. “I’m sure it was a metaphor for something, but that’s a conversation for another day, probably for an art critic and not a real estate agent.”

He placed a plant in a tall vase in front of the painting’s shvantz, and eventually sold the 724-square-foot, one-bedroom condo for $875,000.

Of course, the leaf or plant trick only works if the seller is on board. Otherwise, the agents will be stuck trying to explain the explicit. Just ask Rob Drag of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. In 2020 he was commissioned to sell an artist’s 7,000 square foot daring retreat in Lincolnton, NC.

Painter Donna Downey had adorned the living room of her seven-bedroom home with floor-to-ceiling depictions of sex positions, orgies and genitals. Drag wasn’t allowed to remove them or cover them up, and it took longer than usual to close the nearly $1 million deal.

“Believe it or not, there were even more racy paintings that the seller removed before the exhibitions,” Drag said. “When agents and buyers asked why they were being asked to look at such naughtiness, she simply said, ‘Because it’s art.’ ”

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