In recent art world news, more than 85 works from Barney Ebsworth’s art collection will be on the auction block in November at Christie’s in New York.  The late travel entrepreneur’s collection is estimated at over $300 million.  The auction house’s fall auction will highlight American art featuring works by Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning. According to Christie’s, Ebsworth’s art trove is regarded as the “greatest collection of American modernism ever to come to market.”

Ebsworth, who passed away this past April, is from a generation whose art collections are coming to the art market among a significant shift in wealth dynamics.  In a study by UBS Group AG, it was found that “[b]illionaires 70 or older will transfer $2.4 trillion to heirs and charities in the next 20 years.”  The Ebsworth collection is said to be at least the third significant estate sale scheduled for this upcoming fall auction season, among those assembled by the late food titan Harry “Hunk” Anderson and the late Museum of Modern Art trustee David Teiger.

Featured artist Hopper’s well known “Chop Suey” (1929) painting portraying two women in a restaurant, is expected to sell for about $70 million, surpassing the artist’s current auction record of $40.5 million set in 2013.  De Kooning’s “Women as Landscape” (1955) is estimated at $60 million, and Pollock’s “Composition With Red Strokes” (1950) is estimated at $50 million.

It will be interesting to see if the above estimates of the featured works will be surpassed in the upcoming auction sale this November.

 

In recent art world news, forty years after a 1967 painting by modernist painter Robert Motherwell had vanished, last week the “Untitled” work (now valued at $1 million) was returned to the foundation dedicated to the preservation of the artist’s legacy.  The painting is among dozens that were lost and believed to have been stolen when Motherwell had hired a moving company to relocate his artworks from one storage facility to another in 1978.  The Motherwell painting was discovered in an upstate New York garage by the son of a former employee of the moving company.

The person who returned the painting has not been identified by federal investigators who helped arrange the return of the work to the Dedalus Foundation.  Foundation officials said that the person was helping his mother sort through some belongings last October when he came across the painting and after inspecting same he noticed the artist’s name in faint pencil on the back of the orange, crimson, blue and black canvas.

The person conducted an online search for information about the artist and subsequently approached the foundation regarding the discovered painting.  The foundation matched up photos of the discovered work to photos of the stolen painting and concluded it was the same work.  The foundation then contacted the FBI and investigators in the art crimes unit established that the person’s father, who passed away in the 1990s, had in fact worked at the Manhattan-based moving company at the time the Motherwell works went missing.

The discovered painting has a few mold stains that can be removed, but the work is said to be in “good shape and had been stored correctly, upright and wrapped in plastic.”

After Motherwell passed away in 1991, nearly all of his paintings were deeded to the foundation.

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, who unveiled the painting at a news conference last week in Manhattan where the foundation took possession of the large 69-by-92 inch work said:

Today, dozens of works by Motherwell remain missing.  We hope that they remain in the same condition as this piece, and that anyone encountering these pieces in the market brings them to the attention of law enforcement.”

It was reported that authorities do not believe the son knew the painting had been stolen, but it did appear that the work had been purposely taken.  The foundation said that the back of the painting had marks where warehouse labels had been torn off.

According to Katy Rogers, director of the Robert Motherwell catalogue raisonné project, the person who had approached the foundation regarding the discovered painting had hoped to sell the work if it was authentic, but agreed to return it upon learning of the circumstances under which the painting had gone missing.

Motherwell was a 20th-century American painter, printmaker, and editor, who played a significant role in the Abstract Expressionist movement.  The late artist is well known as a member of the New York School, which also includes acclaimed artists Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.

The foundation will circulate the discovered painting in connection with its educational programs.

In recent art world news, a Norman Rockwell painting titled “Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe” (1940) from the Berkshire Museum’s collection sold for $7 million (with buyer’s premium added, the figure is about 8.13 million) to a telephone bidder last week at Sotheby’s in New York.  This was the highest price fetched by the museum as part of a sell off of 13 works over the past few weeks at Sotheby’s.  Additional works sold include a Francis Picabia watercolor painting and an Alexander Calder mobile that came in at a below estimate of $1 million last week.

Following the recent offering of 13 artworks at auction (notably, two of which failed to sell, including a Frederic Edwin Church with an estimate of $5 million to $7 million) and a private deal involving the purchase of Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop (1950) for an undisclosed amount by the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, the Berkshire Museum has brought in $42 million just $13 million short of the $55 million goal “it has hoped to raise in an effort to build an endowment and close a budget deficit that its leadership has said risks shuttering the museum in coming years.”

The total fetched for the 11 lots that recently sold at auction was about $12.7 million (without buyer’s premium).  It can be determined from the $42 million total sales to date that the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art likely paid around $29.3 million for Shuffleton’s Barbershop, which was previously tagged by Sotheby’s with a $30 million high estimate.  It is unknown as to whether the museum is receiving a portion of the buyer’s premium paid on auctioned lots—such practice is known as “enhanced hammer”.  If it is, the price paid for Shuffleton’s Barbershop by the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art was likely less.  Sotheby’s has reportedly waived the seller’s fees for the Berkshire Museum.

Pursuant to the terms of the agreement between the museum and the Massachusetts Attorney General and approved by Massachusetts’s highest court in April, the Berkshire Museum has the option of selling up to 40 works in three separate portions to reach $55 million.  With last week’s sale of 11 lots, this means that 26 additional works could still be sold and the two works that passed could be up for auction again.

It will be interesting to see if the museum is able to reach its $55 million goal with the sale of a portion of the remaining works.  For our recent coverage of the Berkshire Museum on the Art Law blog, click here.

In recent art world news, a painting by celebrated African American contemporary artist Kerry James Marshall generated an unexpected windfall for a Chicago municipal agency last week at Sotheby’s in New York.  The vibrant painting titled “Past Times” (1997) fetched $21.1 million at auction last week, which is reported to be nearly 900 times the $25,000 that the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (“MPEA”) originally paid for it in 1997, and set a world auction record for the artist.  Although the painting was not the priciest work auctioned off last week, it likely produced one of the most significant returns on investment for one of the least likely of collectors.

The state of Illinois formed MPEA oversees McCormick Square, which encompasses the McCormick Place Convention Center, the Wintrust Arena and two hotels along the shores of Lake Michigan.  The MPEA must spend some of its budget on artwork to be publicly displayed in its facilities.  As such, the municipal agency currently owns over 100 works from a diverse range of artists.

Marshall’s Past Times painting was one of the works purchased by the MPEA in 1997 from the Koplin Gallery in Los Angeles (now the Koplin Del Rio Gallery of Seattle), which was one of the artist’s dealers.  The painting is described as a “lush panorama” of African Americans engaging in various leisurely activities, including boating, croquet, golf and picnicking, with a cityscape in the background.  Marshall rose to prominence in the 1980s for his portrayals of black culture.

After being acquired for McCormick Square, the painting was displayed in the convention center hallway for many years with minimal protection such that it was liable to damage or theft as its value soared.  After some time, officials had started to question the appropriateness of keeping the painting displayed at the convention center.  The painting was sent to storage while the MPEA decided what to do with it.

The MPEA fittingly acknowledged that it is not a museum set up to display an artwork of this value in its capacity as a convention center operator.  The MPEA had decided earlier this year to sell the prized painting at auction.  Sotheby’s had estimated that the painting would sell in the range of $8 million to $12 million.  It had sold for nearly double the high estimate.  The MPEA was reported to be “thrilled” with the auction results.  The sale proceeds will be directed to the infrastructure needs of the campus.

While the sale was very profitable for the MPEA, it is said that the public may be deprived of a highly-valued work of art (Grammy award-winning hip-hop producer and rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs has been identified as the buyer of Marshall’s Past Times painting).  An official of the MPEA noted that Marshall’s work is easy to find nearby at Chicago area museums (i.e., Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and the Chicago Cultural Center) as the artist has been based in Chicago for decades.

Fortunately, even after last week’s sale, the public will still have access to Marshall’s work and perhaps Combs will decide to publicly display Past Times for at least some of the time during his ownership of this monumental work.

 

In recent art world news, a coveted David Hockney oil painting titled Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica (1990), featuring a colorful California landscape along the Pacific Ocean, has been added to Sotheby’s upcoming contemporary art evening sale on May 16 in New York.  The work carries a $20 million to $30 million estimate, which if sold in the estimate range the sale would set a record for the artist at auction.

Sotheby’s has stated that Hockney’s Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica painting represents “a true triumph of his singular vision:  a panoramic and kaleidoscopic paean to his adopted hometown.”

The artist’s prior auction record involved his six-part paneled painting titled Woldgate Woods, 24, 25, and 26 October 2006, which sold at Sotheby’s for $11.7 million in the fall of 2016.  The work features an autumnal scene of East Yorkshire.

Notably, even if the vibrant Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica painting sells at the lower end of the estimate, Hockney’s auction record will effectively double within a short period of just under two years.  The painting is said to be offered from an unnamed private collection.

For further information on Sotheby’s upcoming contemporary art evening sale of the Hockney painting in mid-May, please click here.

In recent art world news, and as a follow up to last week’s post on the Art Law blog, with legal hurdles now overcome, over a dozen artworks from the Berkshire Museum’s art collection are set to be offered for sale at auction next month at Sotheby’s New York in connection with the institution’s efforts to raise a total of $55 million. The lots include works by Norman Rockwell (high estimate of $10 million), Frederic Edwin Church ($7 million), Alexander Calder ($3 million), and Francis Picabia ($1.2 million).

Sotheby’s estimates that the lots could generate between $20.2 million and $28.9 million in sales after being sold at auction in mid-May. The sum from those works will be combined with an unknown sum that the museum received from the earlier announced private sale of its treasured work by Norman Rockwell, “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” (1950), to an institution (recently reported as the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art) that will keep the work on public view.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts based museum hopes to reach its goal of $55 million through the sale of the lots at auction next month and the private sale of Shuffleton’s Barbershop. Whether the museum will be able to reach its goal depends on how much the museum received for the Rockwell masterpiece, Shuffleton’s Barbershop, which depicts a group of men playing music at the rear of a storefront late in the evening. Sotheby’s, the broker of the private deal, has said that the sales figure is confidential.

When Shuffleton’s Barbershop was set to be offered for sale at auction last November at Sotheby’s, the work was estimated at $20 million to $30 million. The auction was halted due to legal challenges that led the Massachusetts Appeals Court to hold off the sell-off of works while the state’s attorney general’s office conducted an investigation of the museum’s plans.

With the legal hurdles now cleared, the first sales of the lots from the museum’s collection are set to take place at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern auction the evening of May 14, when works by Francis Picabia and Henry Moore will be offered at auction. The museum’s highest estimated lot, Norman Rockwell’s Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe (1940), will round out the auction sales at Sotheby’s American Art sale on May 23.

It will be interesting to see if the Berkshire Museum is able to achieve its goal of $55 million after next month’s auction sales. If the museum hits the figure, additional works from its collection will not need to be sold.

Richard Polsky writes:

The ramifications from last May’s sale at Sotheby’s of a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, for $110 million, continue to reverberate. It made the buyer, Yusaku Maezawa, an art world household name. It led to the current “One Basquiat” exhibition, of the now-iconic canvas, at the Brooklyn Museum. It also provoked a multitude of Basquiat owners into believing their paintings were worth far more than they actually were. And, finally, the sale unleashed a slew of fake Basquiats onto the market.

It reminds me of what occurred back in 1990, when the famous Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, known as “Sue,” was discovered. Those who remember the story will recall how the most complete and best-preserved specimen of its type was found on the South Dakota ranch of Maurice Williams. After the dinosaur was unearthed, Williams unwittingly sold it for $5,000. But because he was a Native American, whose land was held in a government trust, he was able to take the buyer to court and have the deal rescinded. Once Williams got his mega-fossil back, he ultimately consigned it to Sotheby’s, who sold it to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for $8.3 million.

After the sale went down, I spoke to Henry Galiano, a well-regarded paleontologist and fossil dealer. As he put it, “You wouldn’t believe all the calls I’m getting from ranchers claiming they have dinosaur bones on their property. Usually, they turn out to be cow bones. People think all you have to do is find a skeleton, hitch a chain to it and yank it out of the ground, and you have a million dollars! They’re all a bunch of ‘dinosaur dreamers.”

The equivalent is currently happening in the art market; a plethora of “Basquiat dreamers” have emerged. Since last May’s sale of one of the artist’s two greatest “Skull” pictures (the other is at The Broad), facsimiles of Basquiats continue to show up in our email. They’re sent by owners seeking guidance on whether they’re genuine. Sometimes, these digital images are outright laughable. More often than not, they bear a passing resemblance to a real Basquiat, but fail to capture the distinct personality of the painter. What all of these works have in common is they always include a depiction of a gold crown. It’s as if the creator seized upon the painter’s well-known icon and assumed by placing it somewhere within the composition, an alchemical process would occur and — voila! — you’d have a genuine Basquiat.

Just as a forger includes a crown, a seller often includes a story about how the work was acquired directly from Basquiat. Hoping to bring street cred to his pitch, he often refers to it as a cash-and-carry deal, so Basquiat could buy drugs — hence there was no paperwork. The potential buyer often nods his head, wanting to believe what he’s just heard, because he too knows Basquiat had a heroin problem. It makes him feel like an insider. After all, this is the art market, where one has to be an insider to get the good deals.

Regardless of all the scams out there, it’s important to point out that genuine Basquiats do emerge from time to time. Last year, through the organization POBA, we were asked to authenticate a large drawing which belonged to someone from Basquiat’s inner circle. Everything checked out and another important drawing took its place within Basquiat’s canon. It’s also worth mentioning that there are numerous authentic Basquiats which were never officially authenticated by the Basquiat estate. Many of these are documented in books and gallery exhibition catalogs. But a surprising number are not illustrated anywhere — yet are right as rain.

Inevitably, all of the hype surrounding the $110 Million Basquiat will dissipate. Assuming the art market continues on its upward trajectory, eventually another major Basquiat painting will break the record held by Mr. Maezawa. But until that happens, we will remain in a period where a steady flow of fake Basquiats keep popping up like varmints in a game of Whack-a-Mole. And just like the plastic moles, which aren’t real, most of these paintings won’t be real either.


Richard Polsky has accumulated forty years of expertise in the contemporary art world as a gallery owner, author of multiple books on the art market, lecturer, and provider of litigation support. Richard Polsky Art Authentication can be viewed at www.RichardPolskyart.com.

In recent art world news, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi (circa 1500) sold for $450.3 million on Wednesday evening at Christie’s postwar and contemporary art auction.  The sale of the rare masterpiece painting made history as the most expensive art market transaction of all time.  The work is believed to be the last painting by the renowned Renaissance artist in private hands.  Alex Rotter, Christie’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art for the Americas, represented the unidentified winning bidder on the phone after a nearly 20-minute bidding session that included five bidders (four on the phone and one in the room).

The previous highest art market transaction was recorded back in 2015 with the $300 million sale of Willem de Kooning’s Interchange (1955) purchased by Kenneth Griffin from David Geffen.

The Leonardo da Vinci lot accounted for more than half of the total sales at the evening auction, which came to an impressive $788.9 million.  The auction had a “respectable” sell-through rate of 84 percent.

After Wednesday evening’s history making sale at Christie’s, this begs the question from the art world as to whether there is no longer a ceiling in the sale of valuable works of art.  For thoughtful commentary on this, see “After Leonardo’s Sky-High Sale, the Art World Asks, Is There Still a Ceiling?” published online by the New York Times on November 16, 2017.

 

Massachusetts Appeals Court Justice, Joseph A. Trainor, granted a motion for an injunction on the sale of important works of the Berkshire Museum.  The auction was to be hosted by Sotheby’s this week. The controversial injunction was entered two weeks after Judge John A. Agostini of Massachusetts’ Superior Court held that the Board of Trustee’s of the Berkshire Museum was permitted to pursue its plan to raise $50 M through the sale of art.

Justice Trainor entered his decision after the Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, filed an appeal three days before the scheduled auction. The Massachusetts Attorney General based her last minute appeal on the fact that the lower court did not consider, among other things, that the planned deaccession of important works would violate the museum board’s duties under its museum charter.

The museum’s controversial sale was to include the sale of two famous Norman Rockwell paintings – Shuffleton’s Barbershop and Shaftesbury Blacksmith Shop. Sotheby’s announced that it was disappointed that the Massachusetts Attorney General had decided to appeal, and that Justice Trainor entered the injunction.  The Board of Trustees of the Berkshire Museum has been fighting Margaret Rockwell, who represents the family of Norman Rockwell as well as other dissatisfied museum members.

In recent art world news, a never before auctioned work, Contraste de forms (1913), by French artist Fernand Léger is to lead Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art evening auction in New York this fall.  The vibrant abstract painting is estimated to sell for $65 million, which would be a new record for the artist if sold.  The work has been in the family of art collector Hans Arnhold since the 1950s and has never been auctioned.  The previous record for a Léger work was set with the sale of La femme en bleu (study) (1912-13) for $39.2 million in New York in 2008.

The work is considered among the greatest Léger works still in private hands with its bold intensity.  According to Conor Jordan, deputy chairman of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s,

[e]xecuted just months before the First World War, Contraste de forms, with its groundbreaking abstract conception and its thrillingly preserved physical state, is without question a major work of Modern Art.”

The Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation consigned the groundbreaking work with the proceeds to go toward supporting the non-profit’s philanthropic mission.  Anna-Maria Arnhold Kellen was the daughter of Hans Arnhold.

As for the work’s provenance, the painting was initially acquired by prominent Parisian dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler after its completion.  Hans Arnhold purchased it from Galerie Rosengart in Lucerne, Switzerland in 1956.  The work was passed on to Arnhold’s daughter and her husband, who was a New York banker, and remained in the family until the death of Anna-Maria Kellen in April 2017 at the age of 98.

Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art evening auction is set for November 13, 2017 at the auction house’s New York City headquarters.