In recent art world news, as an update to our recent post on the fall sale of American works from the $300 million Barney Ebsworth collection, the highly anticipated sale of American modern art occurred earlier this week and fetched $317.8 million at Christie’s New York.  A number of artist records were set at Tuesday evening’s auction, including one for Edward Hopper’s masterpiece “Chop Suey” (1929), which sold for $91.9 million (with buyer’s premium) and more than doubled the artist’s previous record.

All of the 42 lots offered for sale were backed either by auction house guarantees or third party guarantees in which third parties receive a financial incentive for assuming the risk.  The divide consisted of 34 lots backed by Christie’s and eight by third parties.  Of the 37 lots sold (five lots failed to sell), 20 fetched more than $1 million—of those, six sold for more than $10 million and three surpassed $50 million (in addition to Edward Hopper’s “Chop Suey”, Willem de Kooning’s “Woman as Landscape” (1954-55) sold for $68.9 million and Jackson Pollock’s “Composition with Red Strokes” (1950) sold for $55.4 million).

The sale prices of the three featured works by Hopper, de Kooning, and Pollock, set forth above exceeded the earlier reported estimates ($70 million, $60 million, and $50 million) for each respective work.

 

 

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.

 

 

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 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.