Victim in Trump Tower Fire Identified as Andy Warhol's Art Dealer

The Patch - April 09, 2018

by patch.com

Todd Brassner was mentioned multiple times in Warhol's biography, "The Andy Warhol Diaries." By Daniel Hampton, Patch Staff

MIDTOWN, NY — Todd Brassner, a prominent Andy Warhol art dealer, once sold a 1967 self-portrait of the iconic artist for more than $600,000. Warhol and Brassner were so familiar that the artist talked about his encounters with the collector multiple times in his autobiography, "The Andy Warhol Diaries." Warhol even painted a portrait of Brassner, a photo of which can still be seen on Brassner's Facebook page.

On Saturday, Brassner's 50th floor residence at Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan became engulfed in flames. Images and video of President Donald Trump's namesake skyscraper showed fire billowing out of windows high above Fifth Avenue. Hours later, police identified Brassner, 67, as the lone victim killed in the four-alarm blaze.

Brassner sold Warhol prints, including a 1978 Marilyn Monroe with the inscription "to Todd," the Daily News reported. In his book, Warhol wrote the two ate lunch together in 1976 and conversed after Brassner saw boxer Muhammad Ali in the Polo Lounge.

A Warhol-painted portrait of Brassner remains posted to the dealer's Facebook page.

Brassner writes in a Facebook comment: "That's me still have it by Andy Warhol early 1975, 40x40 inches acrylic &s/c on canvas signed & dated on verso, traded a 19th century landscape painting he tossed in 30 Mao prints, I ended up with the portrait for free and made money to boot, that's how our wheeling dealing started until his death, it's in the catalog was the name of the moral foundation, and has been exhibited, I left it in the line living will to MOMA !"

Brassner's profile picture also showed him standing side-by-side with the portrait from years earlier.

A bankruptcy filing confirmed Brassner, who bought his Trump Tower unit in 1996, was an art collector and dealer. He suffered "debilitating medical problems" that made it hard for him to function, CBS News reported.

"The limited support of his family coupled with his medical problems caused the debtor to fall into arrears on his mortgage, credit card payments and line of credit payments," the filing said.

Brassner's apartment, which he originally bought for $575,000, is worth about $2.5 million, the filing noted.

The real estate broker who sold him the unit said Brassner was "a lovely man" who was knowledgable — and vocal — about art.

"He couldn't have been nicer," Dolly Lenz told the New York Post. "He was soft spoken but strong willed and opinionated when he was talking about art. He knew his stuff and he wanted you to know it too. He was very pleasant to be with."

A friend of Brassner's, who wasn't named in the report, said Brassner enjoyed "fine dining and the best things in life," but that the expenses probably got him into trouble, regarding debt. For years, Brassner's family supported him with money and helped him pursue his passion, the bankruptcy filing said, noting that Brassner received a substantial inheritance from his father. But he struggled with health woes and debt in recent years.

Six firefighters were hurt battling the blaze at Brassner's residence on Saturday, officials said. They suffered non-life threatening injuries. Neither President Donald Trump, nor members of his family, who live part-time in the building, were in the building at the time.

Brassner was rushed to Mount Sinai Roosevelt Hospital in critical condition, police said. He was declared dead at the hospital, according to NYPD officials.

New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the cause of the blaze remains unknown, but noted the apartment was "virtually entirely on fire" when firefighters arrived around 5:30 p.m. Nigro, CBS News reported, called Brassner's 1,137 square foot unit "quite large."

He said it also had "quite a lot of furniture and quite a lot of fire load."

The unit did not have sprinklers.

"It's a well-built building. The upper floors, the residence floors, are not sprinklered," Nigro confirmed to the AP.

Fire sprinklers weren't mandated in New York City high-rises when Trump Tower was built in 1983.

The building code was later update to require commercial skyscrapers to install sprinklers retroactively, but owners of older residential high-rises didn't have to install them unless the building underwent a major renovation.

President Trump in a tweet on Saturday evening also said the building was built well. He thanked firefighters for their efforts and said the fire was confined to Brassner's unit.

Some residents complained it was chaotic in the building when they learned the skyscraper was ablaze.

"It was a very horrible experience . . . there was no evacuation system in place . . . we were at a loss of what to do. I almost fainted. I thought we would die," Lalitha Mason, who lives on the 36th floor, told the Post. "My husband is disabled and we were helpless. All we could do is put wet towels under the door and pray."

According to a January 1999 report in the New York Post, Donald Trump, speaking on behalf of high-rise landlords, called a dozen New York City council members and lobbied against sprinklers, including then-Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. Trump said he couldn't afford to install sprinklers in his buildings.