Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Kmart special on Picasso?

Retailer to sell off its collection of fine art

Greta Guest

Detroit Free Press

TROY, Mich. - Who knew discount retailer Kmart Corp. had a vault, much less one filled with more than 1,000 works of fine art, including works by Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol?

The retailer plans a public showing and summerlong sale of the art starting Friday at its former headquarters in Troy. The retailer started selling office furniture through liquidation sales last month.

Kmart merged with Sears, Roebuck and Co. last year and moved its headquarters to Hoffman Estates, Ill., where Sears was based.

Kmart started in Detroit as dime store S.S. Kresge in 1899. It moved to Troy in 1972 and bought most of the art for its new headquarters.

Most of the art, including watercolors, photography, sculpture and tapestry, will be available for immediate sale, said Michael Weissman, the curator handling the sale for National Retail Equipment Liquidators.

The higher-end pieces, such as a Picasso tapestry and a signed Andy Warhol poster, are expected to be sold through an on-site bidding process.

The discounter also has a Blue Light Special room where art can be had for $10 to $200 for an oil painting.

"We are trying to provide a balance. We are selling as many $1,000 items as we are $50 items," Weissman said.

Weissman said most of the artwork, including a 15th-Century Chinese Ming Dynasty watercolor on silk, was acquired by Kmart in the 1970s.

"It was kind of a golden age of this company. They were kind of patrons of the arts in some ways," he said.

Richard Fedorowicz, an appraiser at DuMouchelle Art Gallery in Detroit, said it isn't unusual for a major corporation to have an extensive art collection.

"Corporate art collections can be in the millions of dollars. A lot of the collections go for things that are more modern," he said. If Kmart has "an actual Ming piece, yes that is more unusual."

Fedorowicz said a liquidation sale is probably not the best venue for items such as the Picasso tapestry or the Ming Dynasty watercolor, which is probably worth thousands.

"They could get a lot more bidders by putting those items up for auction with an auction house that has an international clientele," he said. "There's nothing like just having it all out there for everyone to see."

The display will include astronaut Alan Bean's photography autographed by more than 20 U.S. astronauts and Kmart memorabilia dating back to the turn of the century.

One of the biggest pieces of memorabilia has to be the massive solid oak table where Kmart's board of directors met. It seats 30 and is expected to be sold in September.

"You can imagine people signing big deals there all the time," Weissman said. "Martha Stewart signed her deal there."

Stewart was signed as Kmart's lifestyle spokeswoman in 1987.

Brian Satovsky, 36, a mortgage broker from Birmingham, said he plans to attend the sale this weekend to see what kind of bargains he can pick up.

"You know they have nice stuff, and I assume it will be marked down quite a bit."

Satovsky said he is curious about former Chief Executive Officer Chuck Conaway's desk.

"I think some of Kmart's former stockholders might want to buy that desk and blow it up in the parking lot."

Conaway was at the helm when Kmart filed the largest retail bankruptcy in history in January 2002, making the retailer's stock worthless.

The gallery will have six showings per month from June through September. Each month will feature a different style or work. The sale started last weekend, but the bid process for higher-end pieces starts this weekend.

All showings will be held on the fourth floor of the former Kmart headquarters, 3100 W. Big Beaver Road, Troy.

Kmart sold the 40-acre headquarters site at Big Beaver Road and Coolidge Highway to Madison Marquette last year. The company plans to demolish Kmart's building and redevelop it into a mixed-use project.


  1. What a waste. Art is meant to be seen and enjoyed by many...not squirreled away and horded.

    Glad the art will have the chance to see the light of day again.

  2. Who'd have thought that a company with as dowdy an image as Kmart would have invested so much in fine art. It's bizarre.

    Some of the art wil find good homes. It would have been more noble to donate it to a local art museum or the proceeds from same to a worthy charity, but I digress.

  3. That sort of thing makes you wonder..... they tied up a lot of money in fine art and nice furniture, then Walmart came along and undercut them and forced them out of a lot of towns. What were they thinking about?

    I bet that tapestry from the Ming dynasty was not cheap!


  4. It does seem somewhat silly in retrospect, but really, that's how corporate America worked back in the day.

    It should be noted that at the time they bought the majority of the art in their collection, Kmart (back then S.S. Kresge Co.) was flush with cash and had no serious competition, at least not as serious as Wal-Mart became.