To sell Picassos, Las Vegas turns to Sotheby’s, Jay Leno and a DJ

On Saturday, in a ballroom at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino, Sotheby’s plans to auction 11 works by the Spanish master belonging to gaming giant MGM Resorts International.

Sotheby’s estimates their combined value at around $ 70 million.

That being Vegas, the auction house plans to inject a lot more pizazz than bidders expect from a hushed deal in New York. Sotheby’s transforms a ballroom, a few steps from a sea of ​​slot machines, into an auction room. Yet before anyone picks up a hammer, former talk show host Jay Leno will be giving a talk about his massive collection of cars. After the sale, Pablo Picasso’s great-grandson, DJ Florian Picasso, will spin tunes at an evening featuring cabaret dancers.

“We learned last year that people adapt, but they love surprises,” said Brooke Lampley, president of Sotheby’s and head of global sales for global fine arts.

To pique the interest of big bettors who might not attend the art auctions, Sotheby’s and MGM added a second sale on Sunday at the nearby ARIA Resort & Casino. Items include a pair of Nike worn by great basketball player Michael Jordan during his rookie year in 1984, with an estimated presale value of at least $ 1 million) and a manuscript containing Bruce Springsteen’s handwritten lyrics to “Born to Run “(estimated value of $ 200,000 or more).

The Las Vegas Strip has had a troubled relationship with the fine art. When the Bellagio opened in 1998, its eponymous art gallery featured masters like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, and played a role in the hit remake of “Ocean’s Eleven,” which revolved around thieves pulling a heist on an art-loving casino mogul.

The Venetian Resort has opened its own museum featuring works from the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. It closed in 2008.

Most recently, Station Casinos’ brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta planned to exhibit a Damien Hirst aquarium-style tank with a shark dissected in their plans to renovate the Palms Casino Resort before the casino closes. The casino was sold this spring to the Indian Band of the San Manuel Mission.

MGM says it wants to use the proceeds from the sale of Sotheby’s to commission installations like this mural by contemporary artist Okuda San Miguel.


Joe Buglewicz for the Wall Street Journal

The Bellagio, owned by MGM Resorts International, still has its fine art gallery, which will continue to hold exhibitions, said Demecina Beehn, curator of special projects at MGM. The typical daily attendance at the gallery hovers around 150 people, she says. The Picasso auction will take place in the Monet ballroom of the casino.

Picasso’s works for sale this weekend have long adorned the Picasso-themed restaurant at the Bellagio, which describes itself as offering “fine dining, authentic Picasso masterpieces, and views of the Bellagio fountains. “. The restaurant replaced the works on sale with other lesser-known Picassos from its collection, Ms. Beehn said.

The works up for auction include a 1938 portrait of the artist’s mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, titled “Woman with a Red-Orange Beret,” which is expected to sell for at least $ 20 million, according to Sotheby’s.

There is also a 6-foot portrait from 1969 titled “Man and Child” which is expected to fetch at least $ 20 million, as well as a jewel-toned “Bust of a Man” from the same year which is estimated to be worth. at least $ 10 million. Other smaller pieces in the set include an estimated $ 60,000 ceramic vase incised with the artist’s cheerful marks and a 1917 design, “Pierrot,” which Sotheby’s expects to sell for at least $ 2. , $ 5 million.

The 6-foot Pablo Picasso Man and Child from 1969 is part of the MGM collection which will be auctioned this weekend in Las Vegas.



MGM officials say the sale of the Picassos in Las Vegas will help the casino operator strengthen its position in contemporary art. MGM says it can save space and money to expand its contemporary art collection, which currently comprises around 900 pieces, many of which are on display at the casino operator’s global properties.

To create a “seamless and cohesive experience,” Sotheby’s Ms. Lampley said the house was building a Sotheby’s ensemble inside the ballroom with teal walls, phone banks and a white gallery. The auction house takes off with its star London auctioneer, Oliver Barker, to lead the sale into the Monet Ballroom at the Bellagio. It is also the hiring of a cellist to perform on the neighboring terrace.

The sale will be broadcast live and will begin at 6 p.m. local time to coincide with 9 a.m. in Asia, Ms. Lampley said. Collectors in California and Texas seem more willing to come to the auction, she said, and the 80 ballroom seats have already been announced. Picasso’s great merchant David Nahmad said he was sending his sons Joe and Helly Nahmad for sale.

The 11 Picassos in the running were originally chosen by Bellagio founder Steve Wynn, the casino mogul and art collector sidelined by the industry after allegations of sexual misconduct were brought against him three years ago, which he denied. Mr Wynn, 79, resigned as director of Wynn Resorts in 2018. Mr Wynn, contacted through his gallery, Wynn Fine Art, declined to comment on the upcoming sale.

Picasso’s 1969 “Bust of a Man” will be auctioned this weekend in Las Vegas.



Ari Kastrati, director of hospitality for MGM, said MGM had “moved on” and intended to use an undisclosed portion of the proceeds from the sale to purchase more works by women and artists of color emerging.

Mr Kastrati said he also hopes the sale can give a boost to Sin City’s aspirations to become a fine arts destination. Plans were scrapped amid the pandemic to build a $ 200 million art museum that could serve as a branch of the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, museum director David Walker said.

Locals were also initially slow to embrace Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone’s installation “Seven Magic Mountains” south of Las Vegas in 2016, with its colorfully painted rock totem towers, though it now attracts hundreds of visitors every day.

For Michele Quinn, longtime Las Vegas resident and former MGM curator who went on to advise collectors like Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the next auction is “bittersweet” because the Picassos at the Bellagio were among the few major masterpieces that locals could see near home. Selling them, she said, is like “a liquidation or the end of an era.”

Ugo Rondinone’s “Seven Magic Mountains”, located a few miles south of the Las Vegas Strip, attract several hundred visitors a day.


Gianfranco Gorgoni / Artistic Production Fund / Nevada Museum of Art

Write to Kelly Crow at [email protected]

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