The auction season is upon us again. And it feels… normal. We are back on planet Earth after the record-setting $3.2 billion behemoth sales of six months ago, where Paul Allen’s treasures skewed the market towards top end as never before. Remember all those lots that fetched $100 million (or more) each?
There could be—and surely will be—the kinds of heated bidding wars that push material above their high estimates. But looking at this month’s presale estimates, I spotted just one artwork—René Magritte’s Empire of Light at Sotheby’s—that’s expected to cross the $50 million mark. (It’s valued at $35 million to $55 million.)
The stakes are high, with more than $2 billion of art on offer at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips. There’s still more in the art fairs clustered around Frieze New York, and all the gallery exhibitions around the Big Apple. Will the market be able to absorb it all?
“When you’re worried about banks, interest rates, the debt limit, you’re thinking: ‘Hmm, maybe I won’t bid on that $20 million painting’ or ‘Maybe I’ll stop at the low estimate,’” an auction executive said. “The market is good. It’s just not quite as frothy. Not like a year ago when things were selling like hotcakes.”
To be sure, there is plenty of premium inventory from collections and estates of distinguished provenance, including S.I. Newhouse and Gerald Fineberg at Christie’s and Mo Ostin at Sotheby’s. Fashion legend Valentino and newsprint mogul Peter Brant are parting with their Basquiats. A nonprofit arm of the largest Brazilian bank is selling the first cast of Louise Bourgeoise’s 1996 giant bronze spider, and members of the Whitney family have consigned a rare, late Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), which is poised to reset the market for the French Post-Impressionist painter.
Those are the sellers many people know about. But the Art Detective has also identified other noteworthy consignors whose names are not listed in the catalogues. And while the auction houses declined to comment, citing confidentiality, some of the sellers broke their silence.
Anthony (Tony) Pritzker
With a coveted solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cecily Brown is the talk of the art world. So, it’s not surprising that collectors are trying to cash in. There are six paintings by Brown on the auction block this month in New York, and the priciest of them—Untitled (The Beautiful and Damned)—is being sold by Tony Pritzker, the billionaire scion of the family behind the Hyatt Hotels. Offered by Christie’s on May 15 at $5 million to $7 million, it’s poised to test the artist’s current auction record of $6.8 million. Pritzker’s assistant declined to comment.
A six-foot-tall painting of a perky nude by Brooklyn-based Robin F. Williams will open Christie’s evening sale of 21st century art. Titled Ice Queen (2019), it’s being sold by Alberto Chehebar, a Los Angeles-based collector of ultra-contemporary art. He acquired the work in 2019 from Various Small Fires gallery and was getting a lot of pressure to donate the work to a museum, he said. But which one? “If I donate it to X, then Y is going to get upset and Z is going to get upset,” Chehebar said, when reached by phone. “We decided to put it in the public realm and let the best man win.” Estimated at $100,000 to $150,000, it’s likely to sell for much more, as first lots tend to in the evening sales. “I think it’s going to be great for her and for women artists coming up this season,” Chehebar said. “It’s her absolute masterpiece. I hope it goes to an institution.”
One of my personal favorite moments in Christie’s auction preview this season is a room anchored by three monumental abstract paintings by Morris Louis (1912-1962) to be offere The largest one, Beta Beta, is 13 feet wide, with the artist’s signature diagonal stripes flowing on each side from top to bottom—a deconstructed rainbow. It’s estimated at $2 million to $3 million. The works come from the private collection of Washington, D.C.-based real estate developer and philanthropist Robert Kogod, who is known for his trove of AbEx art, including works by Clyfford Still and Franz Kline.
Larry Gagosian is cleaning house. The lower-priced material he’s selling at Christie’s and Phillips this season offers a glimpse into somewhat unexpected reaches of the mega-dealer’s taste. The final lot of Christie’s 20th-century evening sale comes from his private reserve: a box of 10 photographs by Diane Arbus (1923-1971), estimated at $900,000 to $1.2 million. Then, deep in the day sale on May 12, is Casamento, a charming painting of a wedding couple with a baby by Asuka Anastacia Ogawa (born in 1988), estimated at $20,000 to $30,000.
A group of at least 13 artworks in Christie’s day sale of contemporary art comes from the collection of Ariel Bentata, a co-founder of the commercial real-estate investment firm Accesso Partners LLC. and a patron of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. It’s a wide-ranging trove of popular artists, including Katharina Grosse, Jennifer Guidi, Rashid Johnson, David Salle, Günther Förg, and Aboudia. The works had been acquired at galleries, auction houses, and also from artist studios, as was the case of Emmanuel Taku’s 2021 painting, Beige Beret, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.
Bicoastal music producer Jeff Magid has emerged as an active new collector of young art, acquiring works by artists such as Henry Taylor, Magdalena Suarez, and Rick Lowe. He’s also been an occasional seller. This season he consigned Fadojutimi’s A Toast To…? to Sotheby’s, where it’s estimated at $500,000 to $700,000. He bought the work in 2020, at the start of the pandemic, through Galerie Gisela Capitain and offered to resell it through the gallery after the artist joined Gagosian last year. Now, with four auction results for Fadojutimi’s work surpassing $1 million, Magid said he hopes Sotheby’s sale will allow him to continue supporting emerging artists early in their careers and complete the artist residency he’s building in Mexico City.
The Canadian poker-playing billionaire founder of Cirque de Soleil is selling paintings by Christopher Wool, Rudolph Stingel, and Damien Hirst in Sotheby’s evening and day sales. The most valuable of the group is Wool’s untitled word canvas spelling “PLEASE” in signature black font on white background. The painting is estimated at $10 million to $15 million. Laliberté bought it exactly six years ago for $17.2 million at the auction of Emily and Jerry Spiegel at Christie’s, setting what remains the fourth highest price for Wool at auction to date.
New York-based private investor and former Guggenheim Foundation trustee David Shuman is the consignor of Matthew Wong’s The Jungle in Sotheby’s “The Now” evening sale on May 18. Estimated at $1.2 million to $1.8 million, the 2017 painting depicts a figure in a white canoe that’s evocative of Peter Doig’s signature compositions. Shuman had pledged the painting as collateral for a loan with Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2022, according to a regulatory filing. It’s one of just two works by Wong in New York’s sales this month, the second being a small oil-on-canvas in Phillips day sale on May 16. Shuman bought the painting directly from Karma gallery in 2017, when they ranged in price from $3,000 to $15,000, depending on the scale.
One of Miami’s top collectors, Margulies is known for his deep holdings by Roy Lichtenstein. Now he is selling one off, Mirror #7 (1971) at Phillips on May 17, where it’s estimated at $3 million to $4 million. He bought the work for $504,500 in 2002 at Sotheby’s, and it was subsequently published in “The Martin Z. Margulies Collection,” a two-volume tome on his extensive trove.
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