Billionaire art lover is looking to make a historic sale

In the past two weeks, Chinese billionaire Bill Liu banks on his display invention to grow his fortune

Stan Kroenke the owner of the Los Angeles Rams and the largest shareholder of English Premier League soccer club Arsenal stands on the field before an NFL football game against Arizona Cardinals at Twickenham Stadium in London, Sunday Oct. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
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Joe Lewis

David Hockney, the 81-year-old British painter of saturated landscapes and portraits, could become the most expensive living artist at auction this year.

Hockney's Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) is being offered for sale to auction houses by billionaire Joe Lewis, who's seeking at least $80 million for the work, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. The current highest price for a living artist is $58.4m for Jeff Koons' orange balloon dog.

Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips have been approached, with Christie’s the front-runner, said the people, who asked not to be identified.

Mr Lewis has built a $5.5 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The foreign currency trader has parlayed his earnings into an array of assets that include London-based English Premier League football team Tottenham Hotspur, real estate and masterpieces by artists including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud.

A current Tate Britain exhibition in London, All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life, includes several works from Mr Lewis' collection.

A representative for Mr Lewis, the chairman and founder of Bahamas-based Tavistock Group, didn’t return emails or a telephone call seeking comment. Christie’s declined to comment on the work or the seller and it’s unclear whether it will be offered during October sales in London or at the semi-annual auctions in New York in November.

The 1972 canvas depicts two men: one, fully clothed, stands at the edge of a swimming pool gazing down at another, who is submerged. The hilly landscape behind them was inspired by the South of France. The standing man is Peter Schlesinger, an artist.

Recently exhibited in Hockney’s retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was also on loan from Mr Lewis, the work is considered one of his most iconic images. A small study for the scene fetched $2.1m in 2016.

Bill Liu

The idea came to him while lounging on the Stanford University lawn as an electrical engineering student: a flexible display that could be tucked away like a pen.

“Big screens that we can roll up and put in our pocket,” said Bill Liu, 35, founder of Shenzhen, China-based unicorn Royole Corp.

Mr Liu has been chasing that dream ever since, and after demonstrating the world’s thinnest flexible, full-colour smartphone display in 2014, he now has a long list of venture capitalists backing him.

Following a stint as a research scientist at IBM in New York, Liu moved to Shenzhen and founded Royole with two other engineers with Stanford backgrounds. Now in its sixth year, the start-up was valued at $5bn in its latest Series E round of funding. Many of its 2,000 employees are working to mass produce the displays at a Shenzhen production campus built with Royole’s cache of VC money.

Mr Liu sees an opportunity to change one of the most fundamental human-machine interfaces of our time. By offering a solution to the conflict between visual experience and portability, he figures Royole can overhaul the devices by which most information is absorbed these days.

“People really want to see beautiful, high-resolution big screens, which is why TVs and theatres keep getting bigger,” he said. “But it’s at conflict with portability. If we can make something that combines both in one device, it can be amazing.”

Company filings show Mr Liu has about a 42 per cent stake of the company, giving him a $2.1bn fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Co-founders Peng Wei and Xiaojun Yu, who also studied at Stanford, have smaller stakes.

Royole’s line of products include 3-D mobile theatres, “wearable” flex displays and a smart writing pad, which it sells on, and flagship stores in China, the US and Europe. But its main source of revenue is business-to-business sales of its technology solutions, such as a lamp by China’s Opple Lighting, which can be adjusted with touch technology built into the stand.


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Mr Liu said he’s working on potential deals with smartphone makers and vehicle companies interested in Royole’s curved dashboard. A partnership with Chinese athletic goods maker Li-Ning is also in the works.

Flexible displays including the curved design used by Samsung Electronics account for about a third of total smartphone display shipments, said Jerry Kang, an IHS Markit analyst. He said the technology will have a majority of the market by 2022, when shipments of smartphone displays are expected to have tripled.

“Mobile brands will try to make their products with larger screens in a more convenient way," he said.

Stan Kroenke

The majority owner of Arsenal soccer club agreed to buy Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s stake in a £602.4m ($781.1 million) deal, ending a dispute between the tycoons over management of the Englsih Premier League team.

American billionaire Stan Kroenke will make an offer to acquire all the shares in Arsenal Holdings, he said last week. Mr Usmanov agreed to tender his 30 per cent stake in a deal that values the club at about £1.8bn. Mr Kroenke already owns about two thirds of the company.

A fans’ group greeted Mr Kroenke’s proposal to delist the publicly traded company with dismay, calling it a “dreadful day” since they will lose the chance to own shares in the club and make their voices heard at the annual meeting. With Mr Usmanov’s departure, Arsenal also loses a shareholder who had pushed for the struggling club to spend more on buying star players.

Despite his shareholding, Mr Usmanov was shut out of the process of developing strategy at Arsenal and didn’t have a seat on the board. He criticised Mr Kroenke last year as the team struggled through a disappointing season, saying the majority owner was responsible for the team’s performance on the pitch.

“​I have decided to sell my shares in Arsenal Football Club,” Mr Usmanov said in a statement confirming the agreement. “I wish all the best and great success to this wonderful football club.”

A representative for Arsenal declined to comment.

Mr Usmanov, 64, whose assets include an iron-ore producer and Russian phone carrier MegaFon, is Russia’s eighth-richest person with a net worth of $14.4bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Mr Kroenke, 71, founded a real-estate development company that built shopping centres and apartment buildings. He owns the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League. He has a fortune of $7.75bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His wife, Walmart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke, owns the Denver Nuggets basketball team and the Colorado Avalanche hockey team. SHe is worth $4.69bn, according to the index.

Mr Kroenke plans to make a compulsory buyout offer for all remaining shares once he has 90 per cent of the stock. The bid values Mr Usmanov’s stake at more than £550m and the remaining shares at about £52.4m.

While Arsenal Holdings is listed on the NEX Exchange Growth Market for smaller companies, the shares rarely trade, given that Mr Kroenke and Mr Usmanov own a combined 97 per cent. Mr Kroenke is offering £29,419.64 a share in cash, below the last trade on July 31 of £32,000.

Deutsche Bank is advising Mr Kroenke, who plans to pay for Mr Usmanov’s shares with £45.4m of his own cash and a loan of £557m from the bank. Interest on the debt will not be funded from the business of Arsenal, according to the statement.

Peter Hargreaves

Woe betide the politician, economist or civil servant who bumps into Peter Hargreaves.

The British billionaire, who was one of the biggest financial backers of Brexit, is fuming over how the exit is being handled. Not that he thinks much of opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn either.

Misgivings aside, Mr Hargreaves, 71, has done better than most since Britons voted to leave the European Union. His fortune has increased by about $2bn to $4.6bn on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index as shares in Bristol, England-based Hargreaves Lansdown, the financial services provider he founded in 1981, hit a record this summer. The company said last week that pretax profit rose 10 per cent to £292.4m for the year ended June 30.
Asked what a Corbyn government would mean for the UK, Mr Hargreaves said: "Corbyn would be an absolute, unbelievable, total disaster. The pound would collapse. There would be an enormous brain drain from the UK. The last time that tax rates went up to crazy rates, many very wealthy families left the UK and they've never come back. So many entrepreneurs left.

"I really don’t know what Corbyn’s policies are," Mr Hargreaves continued. "He’s purely been a protester for the whole of his life. He’s never even considered, even contemplated, he would actually have to make decisions. All he’s done is voted against everything. So we have no idea what this guy is about. We don’t know whether it’s Brexit or not, he flies with the wind. He’s like Boris Johnson, he’ll go either way that he thinks will get him the prime minister’s job."

However, he was more sanguine about the possible effects on his personal fortune. "You say my wealth is $4.6bn? If it wiped $4bn off and left me $600m it would not change my lifestyle one iota.

"We live very modestly. I can’t see the point in going out and spending money on things you don’t want. I could afford anything. I don’t want anything. I don’t want to go out socialising every night. I’m quite happy to sit at home with my family."

Regarding the eventual outcome of the Brexit negotiations, Mr Hargreaves said: "The best option is no deal. No deal would give us free trade with Europe because the three biggest economies in Europe, outside Britain, are huge exporters to the UK. That’s Germany, France and Italy. And those three economies would absolutely demand free trade from the EU. I guarantee my entire wealth that we would get free trade."