In recent art world news, over the summer art dealer David Killen purchased a storage locker in New Jersey containing 200 works of art for $15,000 after hearing about it and taking a cursory look before completing the sale. This was nothing out of the ordinary for the art dealer as every month he purchases hundreds of art prints, antiques and kitschy knickknacks to sell at his New York City based auction house, David Killen Gallery, in Chelsea. After the delivery arrived, some of the notable items included a tube labeled “WARHOL” (though no artworks were inside), and three boxes labeled “DE KOONING” that produced six paintings on paper, some of which were stuck together. The de Kooning works were “tantalizing: the gestural sweeps of oil, the yellowed newsprint underneath, the stalled state between a sketch and a perfectly realized composition.”
Killen did some research and looked up Lawrence Castagna, who was the former assistant to the late Dutch artist Willem de Kooning, and as it turned out, to the art conservator and restorer Orrin Riley, who was the founder of the conservation department at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and had passed away in 1986. Castagna believed that the de Kooning paintings may have been in Riley’s restoration studio. “Sometimes works languished in the restoration studio after the insurance companies that had paid claims on the damaged works decided it wasn’t worth the cost to fix them.” As improbable as that may appear, given the current value of de Kooning works, Killen theorizes that is how the six de Koonings ended up in storage.
Killen had offered the works to Sotheby’s, however, the auction house was deterred due to the provenance issues. The Willem de Kooning Foundation does not authenticate works, and the university professor consulted by Killen who considered the works legitimate asked to remain anonymous.
In view of these hurdles, the art dealer is auctioning off the works himself. Though given the caveats, Killen is uncertain as to how much the works will ultimately sell for—$10,000 or $10 million? Killen’s hope is that serious prospective buyers attend the auction along with their experts and have the experts confirm that the works are authentic so the buyers will consummate the sale.
The Willem de Kooning auction is scheduled for October 14, November 11, and December 9, at the David Killen Gallery in New York.