Sex sells, but for some New York homebuyers, what passes for art these days is too blue.
“I want [insert a profane term for ejaculation here] in your heart,” reads an illuminated rainbow-colored sign in the dining room at 18 W. 11th St.
The West Village townhouse, built on the site of the infamous Weather Underground explosion in 1970, is a chic four-bedroom, 6,000-square-foot showcase that’s currently on the market for $19 million.
It is owned by WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey, who installed John Giorno’s naughty artwork, which sells for around $1,500.
House broker Clinton Stowe of Compass says he never takes the painting for showings and most of the time it elicits “laughs, giggles, snickers and sometimes photos.” But he admits vulgarity is a turn off for many buyers.
“I really think offensive art can have a negative impact on the sale of a home, including driving down the price,” added Lorynne Cadman, broker at Century 21 Leading Edge Realty in Toronto. “Buying a home is an emotional purchase. So something as simple as a ‘bad vibe’ from a painting could completely deter someone from buying a home.”
Proactive art has always been used to wow the bourgeoisie, but nowadays a crowd of bourgeois collects art created at their expense.
The stratospheric appreciation of contemporary artworks and the loosening of morals have made collecting even XXX-rated images as practical a matter as reading prime stock.
Artists like John Currin, the Yale-educated artist known for his grotesque nudes and cartoonish sexual antics, can sell their work for more than $10 million a pop. At the Brooklyn Museum, it makes a statement, but in a salon, it’s disconcerting, brokers and their clients say.
When Century 21’s Cadman visited a newly listed three-bedroom house, she got a bad shock.
The man cave in the basement of the house looked more like the den of a horny serial killer, with multiple photos of disembodied female parts hung throughout the room in cute little 18 x 24 inch frames.
“Most of them were nipples,” Cadman said. “There were also lips, but not just any lips, if you know what I mean!
She also recalls photos of mouths doing suggestive things like licking a lollipop and sucking on a Popsicle. Despite the exciting close-ups, Cadman customers closed for $628,000.
“The kick is when we came back for the last visit before closing, the owners were home,” Cadman said. “The smile and teeth in the lady’s mouth in the photos match the seller’s.”
Douglas Elliman’s Lindsay Barton Barrett says her jaw dropped after walking into a one-bedroom loft on 23rd Street covered in pornography.
“There were large format photographs – full frontal nudity – on every wall,” Barrett said. His conservative client, who turned beet red, was not amused. They left without making an offer.
To close the deal, many brokers ask their clients to clean up their acts.
Vickey Barron of Compass says she had a client whose expensive Tribeca condo was filled with paintings of women that “would definitely make buyers blush.”
She told the seller of 86 their coal treasure.
Nest Seekers agent Mike Fabbri also obscures his clients’ steamy art. That’s what he must have done when he sold the Brooklyn Heights apartment to Bob Flanagan, the puppeteer behind Toonces, the terrifying cat driver of “Saturday Night Live.”
“He had all his favorite puppets in the apartment,” Fabbri said, “including a 9-foot-tall statue he made of [Michelangelo’s] David – if David was middle aged and didn’t work out.
“It was basically a huge statue of a fat naked guy,” he said, noting that David’s potbellied manhood was left protruding. “I had to put a sheet around for the projections.”
And when faced with a phallic obstacle at a Harlem condo he represented, Steven Gottlieb, an agent for Coldwell Banker Warburg, quickly neutralized the problem.
“Not only were the subject’s genitals fully exposed, right at eye level, but the paint was also bloody,” Gottlieb said. “I’m sure that was a metaphor for something, but that’s a conversation for another day, probably for an art critic, not a real estate agent.”
He placed a plant in a large 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 vendor is on board. Otherwise, agents are stuck trying to explain the explicit. Just ask Rob Drag of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. In 2020, he was tasked with selling a risky 7,000 square foot artist’s retreat in Lincolnton, North Carolina.
The painter, Donna Downey, had decorated the living room of her seven-bedroom home with floor-to-ceiling depictions of sex positions, orgies and genitals. Drag was not allowed to withdraw or cover them and it took longer than usual to close the nearly million dollar deal.
“Believe it or not, there were even more racy paintings the seller removed before shows,” Drag said, “When agents and buyers wondered why they were being asked to look at such obscenity, she had simply said, ‘Because it’s art.’ ”