April 25, 2006

Refco kicks off sale of $5 mln photo collection

By Dan Wilchins

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bankrupt broker Refco Inc. kicked off
its auction of its photography collection on Tuesday, as it
sells off works by artists including Richard Avedon and Andreas
Gursky in a bid to raise money for creditors.

The auction raised $1.93 million, more than the $1 million
to $1.5 million expected, a spokesman for Christie's auction
house said. The auction had been expected to bring in $5
million, but may now raise more for the company that owes
creditors some $16.8 billion after collapsing in an accounting

Refco began buying art in 1975, and started concentrating
on photographs in the 1990s, just as collectors began paying
real attention to the medium.

The company's curator estimated the collection, once
displayed at Refco's offices in New York and Chicago, cost the
firm some $3.5 million.

The commodities firm, founded in 1969, grew to be the
biggest independent futures broker before seeking bankruptcy
protection in October just a few months after a $583 million
initial public offering.

Among the photographs sold on Tuesday was Joel Sternfeld's
"McLean, Virginia, December 1978," which depicts a firefighter
picking up a pumpkin at a farmer's market while firefighters
battle flames in the background. The piece sold for $96,000.

The highest profile works, including Andreas Gursky's
"Avenue of the Americas," and Richard Avedon's "Andy Warhol,
Artist, New York City, August 20, 1969," will be sold on May 5,
with the balance going up for auction on May 10.

The Refco collection contains some works that could be
characterized as challenging, like Martha Rosler's "Bringing
The War Home: House Beautiful," which features domestic
suburban images superimposed on Vietnam War photos.

But Laura Miner, a former director of the art collections
at Citibank and Morgan Guaranty, who now teaches a class on the
business of art at New York University, said the collection
rendered visits to Refco's headquarters memorable.

"The works that were challenging were hung in such a way
that they were not in your face. You could see them if you
wanted to, but you didn't have to," said Miner, who viewed the
photographs when they were displayed at Refco's World Trade
Center offices. "The collection really made a difference in an
otherwise anonymous space."

Refco filed for bankruptcy in October, one week after the
firm said former Chief Executive Phillip Bennett had hidden
$430 million of bad debt.

Bennett has pleaded innocent to eight counts of conspiracy,
fraud, and other charges.