Art market/Art history
For the past few years now the art market has been making its grand entrance into art history. In museums there have been exhibitions dedicated to great art dealers such as Ambroise Vollard or more recently Pierre Matisse (See here the report about Pierre Matisse), and the sales at auction – dispersing exceptional collections such as those of Victor and Sally Ganz in 1997 or Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent in 2009 – have left their mark on our memories as well as establishing new price thresholds.
65 exceptional works
On 15 November 2021 in New York, Sotheby’s will be selling the first part, 34 works – due to be followed by the rest in May 2022 – of the New York collection belonging to the Macklowes. This is a huge event which is set to go down in history since the 65 works of contemporary art concerned are of an exceptional quality and they alone total a never-before-seen estimate: 600 million dollars. But the final amount could be considerably higher.
A billion dollars
According to Forbes, in 2019 the collection had an insurance value, given by Christie’s, of a billion dollars.
Like in the American myth
There was once a young New York couple who, from the 1960s onwards, would climb the ladder of social mobility like in the American myth. In parallel they collected paintings and sculptures selected with great precision, which would come to be widely recognized later.
First a Miro
In an exclusive interview, Harry Macklowe reveals to us that the first artwork they acquired was an etching by Miro in 1960 or 1961. “It cost 125 dollars but I didn’t have the money. I made a deal to pay 10 dollars a week,” says the businessman who made his fortune in real estate.
He has shaped the New York landscape by selling for exemple, to Steve Jobs, the site occupied by the former General Motors building to establish the flagship Apple store on 5th Avenue, inaugurated in 2006.
But more recently the couple made headlines in the society columns with their tumultuous divorce after 59 years of marriage, where the main issue at stake was the art collection.
In 2019, in a very New York spirit, Harry Macklowe put up a billboard over 12 metres high on one of his buildings, at 432 Park Avenue, featuring his portrait alongside that of his new wife, Patricia Landeau. The context was not favourable for Linda and Harry Macklowe to reach an agreement on the value to give the works.
The amount of the guarantee
After a joint proposal from Sotheby’s, Gagosian gallery and Pace gallery to buy the ensemble and a court decision ordering to disperse the collection, it is Sotheby’s who have been chosen to present it at auction. It’s clear that the amount of the guarantee accorded to the sellers – a minimum sum which the owners will receive whatever the results of the sale – has played its part in the appointment of the auction house, owned by Patrick Drahi. On this occasion incidentally the latter has broken his usual reserve to declare that he is “happy and proud that Sotheby’s has been chosen”.
An apartment overlooking Central park
These paintings and sculptures were mainly hung in the former couple’s huge apartment, which overlooked Central Park.
The collection in video
A video made by Sotheby’s shows the museum-worthy ambition that reigned there. White walls, neutral sofas, a single grand piano and no personal or decorative touches.
The ensemble is relatively eclectic since it ranges from sculptures by Picasso to a giant work by the New York contemporary conceptual artist Wade Guyton (See here the report about the Wade Guyton retrospective).
Grégoire Billault, Sotheby’s
“This collection resembles a mini-retrospective of a dozen major artists,” observes the head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s Grégoire Billault. “It’s as though a museum curator has assembled it.
Take Gerhard Richter for example: they have a realist painting from early in the German painter’s career, from 1966, but also one of his famous seascapes, very German Romantic, dating from 1975 and lastly a huge abstract painting with its colourful virtuosity, from 1933.”
Andrew Fabricant, Gagosian
Andrew Fabricant, president executive of the multinational Gagosian gallery, first met Linda Macklowe in 1987. “I sold them around 65% of the collection. Linda has a very rigorous eye.
One of the most remarkable pieces in the collection is a black monochrome painting by Pollock from 1951. It belonged to the Metropolitan Museum, to the collector Sam Newhouse (ed. the late owner of Conde Nast), then to Ronald Lauder (ed. co-heir to the Esthee Lauder cosmetics empire). Pollock’s black paintings are not seen enough.” (Estimate: 25 million dollars).
The highest estimates
The highest estimates, 70 million dollars, are attached to a sculpture from 1947 by Alberto Giacometti and a painting by Rothko from 1951.
Giacometti: Le nez
The sculpture “Le nez” (The Nose), acquired in 1994 via Gagosian through the Beyeler gallery, embodies the link between the sculptor’s surrealist period and his later modernist figures sometimes placed, as is the case here, in a cage. “It has never gone up for sale. Six ‘noses’ are in museums and there are only two in existence in private hands,” highlights Grégoire Billault. The record for Giacometti at auction, 141 million dollars, was obtained in 1995 for a large bronze “L’homme au doigt” from the same year.
The other superstar is a painting by Rothko in soft shades of green and pink. The record at auction for the American abstract artist is 82 million dollars but the market evokes a private sale of one of his canvases that belonged to the Moueix family from Bordeaux, which was apparently sold for 140 million dollars in 2014 to the famous Russian oligarch based in Monaco, Dimitry Rybolovlev.
The Macklowes noticed Jeff Koons very early on (See here the report about Jeff Koons exhibition in Marseille and here the report about his sculpture installed in Paris) . They sold one of his famous tanks containing floating basket balls from the 1980s, but still possess, among others, “Aqualung”, a bronze lifejacket which is an object in a surrealist spirit that the New York artist made in 1985. The couple acquired it a year later (estimate: 8 million dollars).
A new collection for Harry
Today Harry Macklowe says that he continues to collect. “When I learned the collection was going to be sold I started to make acquisitions that were just as exciting. As I’ve got older my artistic horizons have expanded. I am particularly attracted to colours. Andy Warhol is a real magician with colour combinations, and David Hockney for example, who expresses great joy, exuberance – by the way I do regret not having taken his work seriously when he arrived in America. I also like the American portraitist Alice Neel, who is a great talent. In her work the subject doesn’t have to smile. It’s the painting itself that smiles.”
Strength and exuberance
Regarding the late period of Cy Twombly (1928-2011), which he prefers to his earlier darker and more severe paintings, Harry Macklowe says: “He shows strength and exuberance in his prime of life.” It seems the collector is talking about himself.
15 November. New York. www.sothebys.com/en/the-macklowe-collection
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