Inside Sotheby’s $500 Million Bet on Restoring Image of Ex-Chairman

24 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Sotheby’s exhibits huge Taubman collection prior to sales.

The lineup features , Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko and numerous other white males, along with exactly two works by women artists among the 77 lots—a gorgeous Mary Cassatt pastel, estimated at just $1–$1.5 million, and a Georgia O’Keeffe abstraction at $1.2–$1.8 million. Alfred Taubman, the late billionaire developer and former owner of Sotheby’s auction house, was a boundless art collector whose taste spanned every period, genre and medium, from works of antiquity to contemporary art. In advance of a series of sales of his 500-piece collection — believed to be worth more than $500 million — Sotheby’s has transformed its building inside and out to give a real sense of its depth and scope.

Beginning Friday, Sotheby’s New York is holding its preview exhibition for four days only, from Saturday through Tuesday, goes on sale November 4, kicking off two weeks of blockbuster sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. The auction catalogue indicates that in 1983, when Taubman owned the painting, it was hung in a show at the Whitney Museum of American Art that was devoted exclusively to works from the museum’s collection. If it reaches its estimated $500 million trophy, it would be the most valuable private collection sold at auction, vying the $477 million sale of designer Yves Saint Laurent’s estate at Christie’s in Paris in 2009. As it turns out, the Whitney owns a very similar example of the painting, a Sotheby’s rep told artnet News, but at the time of the show, the canvas was on loan to the Stedelijk Museum, in Amsterdam. Artworks are arranged not by period but more as they might have hung in Taubman’s numerous homes, in Manhattan; Detroit; Palm Beach, Florida; and Southampton. “What I would like people to come and see and walk away with is that there is no categorical segmentation of great art,” said Alex Rotter, Sotheby’s co-head of contemporary art.

It’s like a man at a gambling table [who] feels that he can’t lose.” The gamble may pay off big: With an estimate at $25–$35 million, the work is in potential record-setting range. De Kooning’s current auction high, set at Christie’s New York in November 2013, is $32 million, so even at the low end of that range, it will set a record when the house’s fees are added in. It’s also worth noting that Sotheby’s may be taking a gamble, too; the entire sale has been guaranteed by the house to reach a total of $500 million, according to an SEC filing. He is credited with transforming Sotheby’s into a global powerhouse, but his reputation was tarnished in 2001 when he was convicted in a price-fixing scandal that embroiled the auction house.

During the first half of 1919, the year he probably painted this work, controversial Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir agreed to meet with the artist, saying, “I have heard that he is a great painter.” He caught on just in time, since Modigliani would die the next year. Even corrected for inflation, that’s just $7.7 million, so if this painting reaches its $35 million high estimate, including fees, it will have increased fivefold in value.

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