When financier Arthur Samberg died in July 2020 at 79, he was best known as the founder of Pequot Capital Management, one of the largest US hedge funds in the early 2000s. But court documents reviewed by ARTnews reveal that, behind the scenes, Samberg and his family were quiet major art collectors, owners of blue-chip works by Jackson Pollock, Constantine Brancusi, Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Edward Hopper, among others.
Beginning in February 2021, Samberg’s estate began selling off holdings to select galleries, according to public records filed in New York at the time. Among the works consigned were Jenny Holzer’s Go where people sleep and see if they are safe, a red granite bench first produced in 1983, and an untitled LED sign from 2003, both of which were privately consigned to Hauser & Wirth. Around the same time, the estate also consigned Joyce Pensato’s 2016 painting Flashy Donald to Friedrich Petzel in New York.
Samberg founded Pequot in 1998. By 2001, the firm was reported to be the largest hedge fund in the world, with $15 billion in assets. Only eight years later, Pequot closed following an SEC insider trading probe, Samberg and Pequot agreeing to a settlement that included a $28 million fine and barred him from association with an investment adviser.
Samberg and his wife, Rebecca, were noted philanthropists, particularly for major Jewish organizations and higher education. Though they were noted supporters of organizations like Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Jacob Burns Film Center, and Rebecca served as a trustee at the Katonah Museum of Art in Upstate New York, they never cultivated reputations as cultural patrons in the art world, either as collectors or supporters of major arts institutions. For example, the Sambergs never featured on the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list. (A representative from the Katonah Museum of Art did not respond to an ARTnews inquiry.)
The Sambergs’ lack of engagement in the art world and their previously unknown collection may speak to a view of their collecting as investment-minded, rather than driven by the reputational benefits that accrue from ties to museums and living artists. According to a recent survey of high-net-worth collectors published by Art Basel and UBS, only 10 percent of collectors identify as ‘investor’ types.
Meanwhile, as recent industry reports have detailed, the art market appears to have cooled considerably, with transactions at the top being more conservative. That economic environment has increased the necessity for auction houses and other top art trade players to pursue the business of valuable estates. Just last week, the New York Times reported that major auction houses have struggled with a “thinning availability of estates” to draw from, forcing them to dig deeper into private collections for one-off works, and often pricing those works lower to drive competition. Those consignments are typically the subject of tense negotiations. For example, one collector and museum trustee, who asked to remain anonymous, told ARTnews that Sotheby’s specialists had estimated a $6 million Philip Guston painting from 1952 that he’d consigned to an evening sale at a value lower than he believed it was ultimately worth.
Public financial documents filed in New York in 2015[HJ1] show that the Sambergs listed seven works from their private collection that were used as collateral for a loan from Bank of America. The document provides a window into their collection. Works held by the Sambergs at the time included Brancusi’s 1911 sculpture of a head, Sleeping Muse, and Roy Lichtenstein’s 1977 painting Interior with Woman. An edition of the Brancusi sold in 2017 at Christie’s for $57 million, while a 1977 Lichtenstein titled Landscape with Figures sold for $18 million in 2014.
Meanwhile, another work listed in the document, Edward Hopper’s 1945 painting Two Puritans, sold at Christie’s for $11.6 million about a year and half after Samberg’s death, in November 2021. It was partially owned by the auction house, according to a cataloging note published at the time of the sale. The house assumed ownership of the work years earlier, in 2015, when the Sambergs consigned it to a New York evening sale; it failed to sell when offered at an estimate of $20 million–$30 million.
An attorney who worked on the transactions declined an ARTnews request for comment owing to confidentiality. A representative for Hauser & Wirth declined to comment on the status of the estate.