Sex sells, but for some New York homebuyers, what passes for art these days is too blue.
“I want to [insert a profane term for ejaculation here] in your heart,” reads a bright, rainbow-colored sign in the dining room of 18 W. 11th St.
The West Village townhouse, built on the site of the infamous 1970 Weather Underground explosion, is a swank, four-bedroom, 6,000-square-foot spread that is currently on the market for $19 million.
It’s owned by WeWork cofounder Miguel McKelvey, who installed the naughty piece of word art by John Giorno, which retails for about $1,500.
The home’s broker, Clinton Stowe of Compass, says that he never takes the painting down for showings and that mostly it elicits “giggles, laughs, snickers and sometimes photos.” But he admits that the vulgarity is a turn off for a lot of buyers.
“I definitely think shocking art can negatively impact the sale of a home including driving down the price,” added Lorynne Cadman, a broker at Century 21 Leading Edge Realty in Toronto. “Purchasing a home is very much 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 épater la bourgeoisie, but these days, a bevy of bourgeoisie collect the art created at their expense.
The stratospheric appreciation of contemporary artworks and loosening mores have made collecting even XXX-rated pictures a matter as practical as playing a blue-chip stock.
Artists like John Currin, the Yale-educated artist known for his grotesque nudes and cartoonish sex romps, can sell their works for more than $10 million a pop. In the Brooklyn Museum it makes a statement, but in a living room it’s disconcerting, brokers and their clients say.
When Century 21’s Cadman toured a newly listed three-bedroom house, she got a nasty shock.
The home’s basement man cave looked more like a randy serial killer’s lair, with multiple photos of disembodied female parts hung throughout the room in neat little 18-by-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 remembers photos of mouths doing suggestive things like licking a lollipop and sucking on a Popsicle. Despite the titillating close-ups, Cadman’s clients closed for $628,000.
“The kicker is when we went back for the final visit before closing, the owners were home,” Cadman said. “The smile and teeth of the lady’s mouth in the photos match the seller’s.”
Douglas Elliman’s Lindsay Barton Barrett says that her jaw dropped after walking into a one-bedroom loft on 23rd Street that was plastered in pornography.
“There was large-format photography — full frontal nudity — on every single wall,” said Barrett. Her 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.
Compass’s Vickey Barron say that she had a client whose pricey Tribeca condo was packed with paintings of women that would “definitely make buyers blush.”
She told the seller to 86 their smut hoard.
Nest Seekers agent Mike Fabbri also obscures his clients’ raunchy art. That’s what he had to do when he sold the Brooklyn Heights apartment of Bob Flanagan, the puppet maker behind Toonces, “Saturday Night Live’s” terrifying driving cat.
“He had all of his favorite puppets around 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 naked fat guy,” he said, noting that paunchy David’s manhood was left protruding. “I had to put a sheet around it for showings.”
And when faced with a phallic hurdle in a Harlem condo he was representing, Steven Gottlieb, an agent with Coldwell Banker Warburg, quickly neutered the issue.
“Not only were the subject’s genitals on full display, right at eye level, but the painting was gory as well,” said Gottlieb. “I’m sure it was a metaphor for something, but that’s a conversation for another day, likely for an art critic, and not for a real estate agent.”
He situated 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 sheet or plant trick only works if the seller 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 an artist’s 7,000-square-foot risqué retreat in Lincolnton, NC.
The painter, Donna Downey, had decked out the living room of her seven-bedroom home with floor-to-ceiling depictions of sex positions, orgies and genitalia. 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 racier paintings that the seller removed prior to showings,” said Drag, “When agents and buyers questioned why they were being asked to look at such lewdness, she’d simply said: ‘Because it’s art.’ ”