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waiting for ganz

by Walter Robinson  

Pablo Picasso
The Dream
Estimate: $30,000,000

Pablo Picasso
Seated Woman in an Armchair (Eva)
Est: $15,000,000-$20,000,000

Pablo Picasso
The Women of Alger
(Version "O")
Est: $10,000,000-$12,000,000

Jasper Johns
Souvenir 2
Est: $2,000,000-$3,000,000

Robert Rauschenberg
Est: $3,000,000-$4,000,000

Eva Hesse
Unfinished, Untitled, or Not Yet
Est: $500,000-$700,000

Mel Bochner
Diagonals Constant
Est: $4,000-$6,000

Dorothea Rockburne
Copal #5
Est: $9,000-$12,000

Victor and Sally
Photo Roberta Bernstein
   In New York, the show of the moment is not Rauschenberg at the Guggenheim, Degas at the Met or Monet at the Brooklyn Museum.

It's the Victor and Sally Ganz collection, more than 115 works that are on view at Christie's in anticipation of the auction Monday evening, Nov. 10. As everyone must know by now, the Ganz sale contains particularly strong concentrations of works by five artists: Picasso, Johns, Rauschenberg, Stella and Eva Hesse, as well as a selection of more contemporary works.

Victor Ganz made his fortune in his family costume jewelry business, served on the Battery Park City fine arts committee in 1980 and was a trustee of the Whitney Museum from 1981 until his death in 1987. Sally Ganz was a great benefactor of educational and cultural groups; she died this January.

They were not tycoons by today's standards. According to the New York Times, the Ganzes spent under $2 million on art that is now estimated to be worth more than $125 million. Let that be a lesson to the young collectors out there!

The showpiece of the sale, Picasso's portrait of a blissfully sleeping Marie-Thérèse Walter, The Dream (1932), was purchased for $7,000 in 1941, the year the couple married. It was their first Picasso, bought when Victor was 29 years old. Its estimate today is $30 million. As has been widely noted (though not in the auction catalogue or the New York Times, both presumably designed to be family reading), this erotic portrait contains a barely disguised image of oral sex. It's worth noting in this context that two years ago a portrait of Marie-Thérèse from the same year, The Mirror, featuring a prominent reflection in the eponymous mirror of her bottom, sold for $20 million, also at Christie's.

The Ganz collection includes a masterpiece of synthetic Cubism, Picasso's Seated Woman in an Armchair (1913) purchased from dealer Heinz Berggruen in Paris in 1967 for $200,000 and now estimated to sell for $15 million-$20 million. This work, which was first exhibited in 1919 and included in the Museum and Modern Art 1980 Picasso retrospective as well as in the 1996 "Picasso and Portraiture," is a portrait of the woman Picasso called "Ma Jolie," Eva Gouel, who died from a tragic illness in 1915.

Another woman who played a large part in Picasso's life and his art, Jacqueline Roque, his second wife, figures in a group of four paintings based on Delacroix's Women of Algiers. The Ganzes bought the entire series of 15 works from Picasso in 1956 for $212,500, and subsequently sold 11 of them to dealers and museums. The top lot in this group, Picasso's final version of Women of Algiers (1955), features a portrait of Jacqueline in harem costume, and carries an estimate of $10 million-$15 million.

In the 1960s, the Ganzes began buying work by contemporary artists. From Jasper Johns they had the iconic, early Pop White Numbers (1959) (est. $4.5 million-$5.5 million); the allegorical painting Souvenir 2 (1964) (est. $2 million-$3 million); the retrospective Decoy (1971) (est. $2.5 million-$3.5 million); and the crosshatch diptych, Corpse and Mirror (1974) (est. $3.5 million-$4.5 million).

Two major works by Robert Rauschenberg are for sale at Christie's, rather than hanging in his retrospective. They are the early abstraction Red Interior (1954-55) made with velvet, plastic and oil on canvas, that the Ganzes bought directly from the artist in 1967 for $11,000 (est. $3 million-$4 million); and Rigger (ca. 1961), a construct painting that includes a shelf-like piece of crushed metal and a tin can hanging from a rope (est. $3 million-$4 million).

Other notable works in the sale include a Frank Stella black painting, Turkish Mambo (1959) (est. $6 million-$8 million) and three works by the Minimalist sculptor Eva Hesse, bought from the artist's first show at Fischbach Gallery in 1968. Top lot among the Hesse works is Ennead (1966) (est. $700,000-$900,000).

To the market observer with feet planted firmly in the contemporary scene, the sale is perhaps most interesting for its broad stylistic spectrum, one that runs from Picasso to Conceptual Art, a range not often seen in a single auction. Thus we have still-radical and relatively low-priced works, such as a numerical diagram by Mel Bochner, Diagonals Constant (1967) (est. $4,000-$6,000) and a folded-paper work by Dorothea Rockburne, Copal #5, (1976) (est. $9,000-$12,000), interspersed with modernist blue-chips expected to sell for 10 times or even 100 times as much.

Will enthusiasm for the Ganz provenance take the market for Conceptual Art to new heights? We'll see!

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of ArtNet Magazine.