Art Gallery Owner Buys $15,000 Storage Locker, Finds Rare Paintings Worth Tens Of Millions Of Dollars Inside

Markus StuecklinAP Images

David Killen has a gallery named after himself in New York City, and after an amazing discovery, he has tons to celebrate. He bought a storage locker for $15,000 and was astonished to find several high-end and rare pieces of art that are possibly worth tens of millions of dollars.

The most valuable paintings Killen found are by what he believes are by Willem de Kooning, each likely to fetch $30,000 to tens of millions at auction. Also, he found one painting that he believes is by Paul Klee, described the New York Post.

Killen came across the opportunity to buy the storage unit, but was hesitant since a well-known auction house had turned down the unit. So he remembers thinking, “How good could it be?” And after he viewed the unit, he remembers that “What they showed me is a bunch of junk, basically… I didn’t see anything good.”

However, he unearthed some boxes labeled “De Kooning.” It turned out that the people who had the unit before him thought they were just prints. Also, Killen thinks that “They weren’t that big a deal in the 70s.”

The paintings are unsigned. Meanwhile, the Willem de Kooning Foundation doesn’t authenticate paintings. However, Lawrence Castagna, art-restoration expert, has put his seal of approval on the authenticity of the pieces. Lawrence boldly said that “In my opinion, they are… There’s no doubt about it.”


The storage unit can be traced back to Orrin Riley, who was a well-known art conservator. Riley ran a private restoration business, which is when he’s believed to have come into possession of the de Kooning pieces. However, Riley passed away in 1986, and his wife Susanne Schnitzer took the reins. Tragically, Schnitzer was killed in 2009 by a garbage truck while crossing the street in Midtown.


So, the executors of the estate tried to find the original owners of all of the paintings in the business. Everything that was left behind was put in a storage unit, until the executors became tired of paying the monthly storage fees. That’s when they reached out to auction houses looking for a buyer. Of course, they didn’t know that they were in possession of original de Kooning paintings. Had they known, they probably wouldn’t have sold the lot for $15,000.


In previous auctions, de Kooning paintings have fetched tons of money. In 2015, billionaire Ken Griffin bought a piece called “Interchange” for a whopping $500 million. Later in 2016, another de Kooning painting was sold for $66.3 million, detailed the Guardian.