An idyllic ease permeates California’s Carmel Valley. Wealthy people have built ranch-style houses into the mountains, giving them views of the Pacific on one side and pine and cypress forests on the other. It’s neither too hot nor too cold, and the fresh ocean air makes you feel calm inside. These conditions, which give big ideas room to grow, have attracted artists to the area, as well as retirees who want to meditate on the good life. But every now and then, the gentle rhythm of this place gets disturbed. Someone’s perfectly manicured existence goes in a turbulent, unexpected direction.
For some people, it’s a real estate shock. For others, it’s an earthquake or—God knows—a wildfire. For Randy Hunter, a local art dealer, that moment arrived in 2008. The financial crisis had come to paradise. Artists and galleries accustomed to a steadyish stream of wealthy collectors fell on hard times. Things got bad enough that Larry Fischer, the owner of a sculpture foundry, decided to auction off pieces he’d held on to for years to help make ends meet. Ahead of the auction, he invited Hunter to come see if there was anything he liked. He guided his friend through the gritty warehouse toward a collection of bronze sculptures he thought might be of particular interest.