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April 30, 2002

A Bohemian Rhapsody: One NYSE floor broker's 22-year quest for the unusual.

By Gregory Bresiger

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  • A Bohemian Rhapsody: One NYSE floor broker's 22-year quest for the unusual.

Paul Olsen, a longtime floor broker with several decades in the trading business, loves to have beautiful things around him.

A former executive of several big brokerages including A.G. Edwards and Prudential Bache Securities, he is now a direct access broker. But Olsen, 64, is not your typical trader. He is the former owner of an art gallery in lower Manhattan who became an avid collector.

Some might call this atypical broker a Bohemian. He has virtually turned his large Hanover Square apartment, which is a few minutes walk away from the Big Board, into a museum. On the walls of his apartment are about 75 of his 400 paintings that he has purchased over some two decades of serious collecting.

This was not the product of design but rather a series of felicitous accidents. Olsen had intended to go into the antique and collectibles business. However, the IRS torpedoed that when it ruled that collectibles were not suitable investment vehicles for IRAs. Olsen was stuck with a long-term lease and a lot of space - part of which he was living in - that he ultimately decided to turn into an art gallery.

Olsen Gallery

"I basically started collecting art when I had a gallery, which was called Olsen Gallery on Tenth Street in Manhattan, between 1980 and 1983," he said. "I closed it when I realized that the only people making money on it were the ones who were buying the paintings not the person who owned the gallery."

Although Olsen stopped selling, he never stopped buying. The result: Even though he has a three-story apartment in lower Manhattan, there's not much space in his home.

"I have a triplex. And fortunately there are a lot of walls around and yet it is still very crowded," he said. And there are hundreds of paintings that he has boxed away in his closets.

Olsen, who says he didn't set out to amass a huge collection when he began over two decades ago, says his art improves the quality of his life.

"They have become a part of me. No matter where I go if I bring my collection with me I feel very much at home," Olsen said. "It also opens up my apartment and my views. Where everyone is locked up in their four walls, I have so many different views. It is never tiring for me to come home."

Olsen also has paintings at his rural home in Madrid, New Mexico. He has another 70 pieces at his second home. In Madrid, he also has another two hundred acres, just outside of town, where he hopes to build another house some day.

Olsen, who enjoys the work of contemporary painters Carlos Cruz, David Kapp and Gregory Botts, among others, commissioned the latter to come to his home in the Southwest, creating pieces that capture the beauty of this breathtaking landscape.

"Gregory Botts spent the weekend out there and now I have nine pieces from his time. They are wonderful pieces," Olsen marveled.

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