The Macklowe collection is back for an encore at Sotheby’s in May. Can the $200 million treasure ignite the same fireworks?
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Get ready for Act II of Macklowe’s auction drama. After the white glove sale in November, Sotheby’s has just unveiled the next batch of the collection of divorced octogenarians Linda and Harry Macklowe.
The upcoming 30 lots are estimated to fetch an additional $200 million in May, a sum that seems almost modest compared to Act I’s $676.1 million windfall. Among the new offerings is a darkly sublime Rothko , Warhol’s camouflage self-portrait, a couple by De Koonings and a monumental seascape by Richter.
“The whole group is such a statement about classical modernism, about the history of abstraction, the dialogue between abstraction and figuration,” said Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s President and Global Head of Sales for Global Fine Art. “There are great opportunities for connoisseurs at all price points here.”
The second part has an obvious challenge – it comes second. Much of Macklowe’s excitement is built into the market at this point, the story feels familiar, the success of the auction almost predetermined.
To keep things fresh, Sotheby’s is looking into marketing. Unlike last time, it unveils the lots in London, not New York. He also brought in Barbican Center artistic director Will Gompertz and curator Eleanor Nairne, who are non-specialists and Sotheby’s executives, to showcase the works before they head to Asia, with stops in Hong Kong and Taipei. Nairne has organized exhibitions on Basquiat, Dubuffet and Krasner. Gompertz is an experienced television presenter and BBC News’ first arts editor. Their lively and impassioned 22-minute conversation amounted to a lightning art history lesson on post-war art.
The launch of Sotheby’s Macklowe 2.0 is timed to coincide with previews of its mid-season auctions in London. Meanwhile, the American art world could be distracted with all eyes on Los Angeles this week, where Frieze LA opened for the first time since the pandemic.
“This is a collection of international significance, so getting it to Europe and Asia was a priority regardless of the art world calendar, fairs and such,” Lampley said. “We find it more effective to have works for low-key viewing time and a particular location, often with an event or cocktail party to invite people. And then keep moving.
The Macklowe collection had been eagerly awaited by the market for years, while ex-spouses battled it out in court and the global pandemic further delayed the auction. The sale was ordered by a judge because the couple could not agree on another way to divide their assets.
The works will be offered on May 16 in New York. Sotheby’s decided to split the collection to avoid flooding the market with too many major works by the same artists at once. And while the company promotes the idea that both parties are equal, offers from top performers have significantly lower values in the second group.
Sotheby’s won the treasure, in large part, by offering a higher guarantee than Christie’s and therefore sold the most expensive works before the first auction through irrevocable bids to minimize its risk. He is again accepting offers from investors, Lampley said.
Declining to say which lots, if any, have already been backed by third parties, she added, “Some works are known and people might have proactively reached out to us about them.”
Most of the works were displayed for years in the couple’s apartment, which spanned almost the entire length of the Plaza Hotel’s seventh floor.
“The dialogue between the works themselves is rich, whether they are two different statements about abstraction with the Rothko of 1960 and the De Kooning of 1961,” said Lampley. “Then, shortly after, you have a 1964 Polke, perfectly illustrating this very rapid change in the art world from abstraction to pop.”
The best batch of the group is that of Mark Rothko Untitled (1960), estimated between $35 and $50 million. Like at Rothko No. 7 (1951), which grossed $82.5 million in November, was acquired by the Macklowes from Arne Glimcher, the founder of the Pace Gallery and a friend of the couple for 40 years. Pace also sold them the Picasso bronze Young manestimated between 1 and 1.5 million dollars; Untitled #11 by Agnes Martin, estimated between $4 and $6 million; and Robert Ryman’s canvas, Quickestimated between 8 and 12 million dollars.
Richter’s monumental seascape, nearly 10 feet wide and 6.5 feet high, is estimated at $25-35 million. The canvas based on the 1975 photo depicts puffy clouds and misty waters blending into each other, a dreamy marriage of elements. The work arrived at Christie’s in London in 1992, failing to sell for $309,000. The Macklowes purchased it six years later from Anthony Meier Fine Arts in San Francisco.
Now the painting has the potential to become the artist’s most expensive figurative work ever sold at auction, surpassing Cathedral Square, Milan (1968), which grossed $37 million in 2013.
Another strong point is Large Charcoal Nude (1944) Jean Dubuffet’s first large-scale nude. Estimated between $4 and $6 million, this Art Brut style painting was the only Dubuffet in the Macklowe collection.
by Warhol self-portrait (1986) was part of his final “Fright Wig” series, painted months before his death in February 1987. Estimated at between $15 and $20 million, the 80-by-80-inch work was acquired from the Anthony D’ Offay from London in 1995. It has never been shown in public since then. The most expensive 80-inch self-portrait in the series fetched $24.4 million at Sotheby’s in 2016.
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