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Chelsea Art Gallery Owner Hits Jackpot With $15K Gamble

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This man almost turned down what would wind up being the offer of a lifetime.

A Chelsea art gallery owner got lucky when he took a $15,000 gamble on a storage locker and found that its contents held a half-dozen paintings believed to be by famed artist Willem de Kooning, which could sell for tens of millions of dollars, The New York Post reports.

David Killen, the owner of an eponymous gallery on 25th Street, wasn’t too eager at first when give the chance to buy a storage unit’s worth of abandoned paintings, according to The New York Post.

One high-profile auction house that he wouldn’t name had already declined the purchase, so Killen, 59, figured, “How good could it be?”

He wasn’t impressed when he had the chance to peek in and get a small idea of what was there.

“What they showed me is a bunch of junk, basically,” Killen told The New York Post. “I didn’t see anything good.”

He still decided to pay the $15,000 for the unit last year for the 200 works of art, figuring he could eventually sell them at his bimonthly auctions, according to The New York Post.

Things changed when he started unloading the paintings in Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J.

“I see these huge boxes that say de Kooning on them,” he said. “What are the odds of finding a de Kooning in a storage unit? It’s unheard of!”

Killen ended up finding six total paintings that he’s confident are by the abstract expressionist, along with a painting he believes to be by Swiss-born modernist Paul Klee, The New York Post reports.

De Kooning paintings can bring anywhere from $30,000 to tens of millions of dollars, Killen said. The artist’s Untitled XXV was worth $66.3 million at a 2016 auction, and a Klee sold for $6.8 million in 2011, according to The New York Post.

The paintings once were in the Manhattan studio of Orrin Riley, an art conservator who started the conservation department at the Guggenheim Museum and later ran his own restoration business, which is where he restored several de Koonings, The New York Post reports.

After Riley’s death in 1986, his partner Susanne Schnitzer took over the business. Schnitzer was killed by a garbage truck as she crossed a Midtown street in 2009, according to The New York Post.

The executors of her estate, who were friends she had in New Jersey, had the duties of getting rid of the artwork. They tried contacting the paintings’ owners as that they could find but were still left with hundreds of works, Killen said.

By: Stephanie Langston

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