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Auction Notebook
by Andrew Decker
 
     
  The sales just weren't the same without Christie's president Patricia Hambrecht and her nearly over-the-top décolleté. She's on leave until January. And Christie's new Rockefeller Center lobby, following the Nov. 8 sale of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, sounded like a salon at Deauville, with every other couple speaking French. Christie's has, of course, been owned by Francois Pinault since mid-1998.
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Speculation on the buyer of the big Picasso lots remains rampant. Austrian banker Wolfgang Flöttl was one nominee for both Nu au fauteuil noir ($41.5 million at Christie's) and Femme assise dans un jardin ($49.5 million at Sotheby's). The New York Times reported that dealers were speculating that Mirage Resorts chief Steve Wynn bought Nu, though its reporter, Carol Vogel, later found that it wasn't so. A dealer on Madison Avenue told one journalist that the buyer of Femme assise was none other than venture capitalist Henry Kravis, who is also a Sotheby's board member. (Auction house board members and staffers are allowed to bid on property only if they do not have access to confidential information, such as the reserve.)

Oddly enough, uber-dealer William Acquavella of New York's Acquavella Galleries watched the Femme assise auction from a Sotheby's skybox in the company of Wynn and Kravis. It's unclear just what, if anything, members of the dealer/chance/money threesome bought, guaranteed, or whatever, but Acquavella and Wynn were offering Kravis their heartiest congratulations as they left the building.
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Inquiring minds want to know... The day after Swiss art advisor Simon de Pury paid $22.6 million for Claude Monet's Water Lilies at Christie's on Nov. 8, word was out that de Pury was bidding on behalf of Sammy Ofer, an Israeli-born, London-based shipping tycoon. Ofer, easily recognizable in his Onassis-style glasses, is worth somewhere between $2 billion and $6 billion, and figuring out whether he bought it, or even might have bought the painting, is an exercise in reading tea leaves.

De Pury buys on behalf of something called the Pisces Trust, a Swiss art investment entity, which may involve one or more than one person operating through the anonymity of de Pury and his partner Daniela Luxembourg. Its major principal is a Pisces, hence the name. So who is it? The astrological sign "is the only clue you'll get," de Pury said. (De Pury is a mysterious Scorpio, so count him out.) Ofer's birthday, however, is 2-22-22, which makes him a Pisces. Is he the man? De Pury said, "No." Absolutely not? "Absolutely not," he insisted.

Ofer did in fact buy Mark Rothko's No. 15 for $11 million at Sotheby's on Nov. 17.
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After buying Paul Cézanne's Pichet de Gres at Sotheby's on Nov. 11, Zurich dealer Beda Jedlicka said the painting was for stock "for the moment. It might wind up in a museum." Jedlicka, along with working for the gallery Art Focus, works closely with dealer/museum head Ernst Beyeler. Jedlicka had also bought Marc Chagall's La chambre jaune at Christie's on Nov. 9 for $5.5 million.
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Just two years ago, London dealer Thomas Gibson was Christie's go-to guy for private sales. Gibson's connection to then-Christie's shareholder and international money man Joe Lewis was a significant reason. But in March, Christie's hired Dominique Lèvy to head Christie's Private Sales, a division of the auction house. So it was only a mild surprise to learn that the consignor of Alberto Giacometti's Trois Hommes Qui Marchent I, which sold at Sotheby's on Nov. 11 for $5.72 million against a low estimate of $3 million, was none other than Gibson, who wrangled a guarantee for the piece out of the auction house.
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Sotheby's had a double-model night on Nov. 18, as a mink-clad Stephanie Seymour accompanied husband Peter Brant to the sale. Brant was selling a Jasper Johns flag drawing and bought Jackson Pollock's 1951 Untitled for $618,500. Claudia Schiffer was hanging out with Giancarlo Giometti, and her presence stirred a buzz among a couple of women of a certain age. One said, "Hey, you just missed Claudia Schaefer." "Schiffler," her friend retorted.
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S.I. Newhouse Jr. sold heavily at Sotheby's, including Lucian Freud's Evening in the Studio ($2.42 million), Roy Lichtenstein's Duridium ($607,500), and Brice Marden's Cold Mountain Addendum ($629,500).
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Mystery man Placido Arango sold works by Rothko, Cy Twombly and Sam Francis, which made up three of the top four lots in Sotheby's sale -- a gross of $18.49 million.

ANDREW DECKER writes on the art market for Artnet Magazine.
 
 
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