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Art Market Watch
Sept. 23, 2005 

Is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art trying to raise the coin for a major art purchase? It would seem so -- the museum has consigned no less than 42 artworks from its collection to the Impressionist and modern art sale at Sotheby’s New York on Nov. 2-3, 2005. The total estimated proceeds are set at $10,000,000-$14,000,000. Top lot is Amedeo Modigliani’s Portrait of Manuel Humbert Esteve (est. $4,000,000-$6,000,000). Other works in the group are by Max Beckman, Edgar Degas, Robert Delaunay, Alberto Giacometti, Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro, Georges Rouault and Henri Rousseau.

Presumably, LACMA curator Stephanie Barron has her eye on an important acquisition, though the museum is mum. Such a large sell-off is still rather scandalous, even in today’s laissez-faire market culture, though LACMA deputy director Nancy Thomas tried to be blasé about the clearance, saying that deaccessioning is nothing new for LACMA, which sells some 200 works a year. (Really? We’d like to have some details on that!) Though the museum says that it hasn’t exhibited any of the group in years, Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern expert David Norman told the Los Angeles Times that he anticipated considerable interest from private collectors. 

The week of Asian art sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York has drawn to a close, with notable results for contemporary art from India. Christie’s grand total for the week was $29,872,440, the highest total ever for Asia Week in New York. Christie’s sale of contemporary art from India on Sept. 21, 2005, totaled $11.3 million, and set new auction records for 13 artists. Top lot was Tyeb Mehta’s brightly colored, vaguely post-Matissean Mahisasura (1997), which sold for $1,584,000, well above its presale high estimate of $800,000, to an anonymous Indian collector living in North America. Other auction records were set for Maqbool Fida Husain ($486,400), Akbar Padamsee ($419,200) and Atul Dodiya ($180,000).

Sotheby’s Asia Week total was $23,066,140, marked by the sale of an early blue and white Ming "prune blossom vase" from the Laurance S. Rockefeller estate for $3.9 million, more than 10 times its presale estimate, to London dealer Eskenazi Limited. Sotheby’s also did very well with contemporary Indian art, which went on the block Sept. 20, 2005. Top lot was an untitled abstraction from the 1970s by Ram Kumar, which sold for $398,800. New auction records were set for 12 other artists, including Vasudeo S. Gaitonde ($240,000), and Francis Newton Souza ($284,800).

Christie’s New York
is previewing "Property from the Edward R. Broida Collection" at its private sales gallery at 21 East 67th Street in Manhattan. A Los Angeles real estate developer who at one time planned a museum in SoHo (he changed his mind at the last minute), Broida, 71, began collecting after striking up a friendship with Philip Guston, working largely with dealer David McKee, who was then with Marlborough Galleries. His collection numbers upward of 400 objects -- and 14 works are destined for Christie’s forthcoming evening sales on Nov. 1 & 8, 2005, with a total presale estimate of $33.9 million-$40 million.

Among the prizes is Mark Rothko’s Homage to Matisse (1954), a sunny orange and blue "columnar" composition that is one of the few works that Rothko gave a referential title to. Broida bought the work in 1984 from Meshulam Riklis, husband of 1980s sexpot Pia Zadora, for less than $1,000,000. The estimate this time around is $15,000,000-$20,000,000; the Rothko auction record is $17.1 million. Other highlights include Franz Kline’s horizontal (43 x 175 in.) Washington Wall (1959), one of six works in the "Wall" series (est. $2,500,000-$4,000,000); Philip Guston’s Zone (1953-54, est. $4,000,000-$6,000,000) and The Mirror (1957, est. $3,000,000-$5,000,000); a 1907-08 plaster of The Kiss, one of eight by Constantin Brancusi (est. $3,000,000-$4,000,000), and a remarkable early work by Alice Neel, Nazis Murder Jews (1936), a painting of a Communist demonstration against the Third Reich (est. $300,000-$400,000).

Other works from Broida -- who hasn’t really sold works from his collection before -- are by Jean Arp, Francis Bacon, Richard Diebenkorn, Barbara Hepworth, Fernand Léger, Jacques Lipchitz and David Smith. The preview is open by appointment only through Oct. 25, 2005.

A reattributed work by Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of an Elderly Woman in a White Bonnet (ca. 1640), is scheduled to go on the block at Sotheby’s New York on Jan. 26, 2006. The painting carries a presale estimate of $3,000,000-$4,000,000. The oil on panel, called "an intimate study of the effects of light," shows an older servant woman in profile with the corner of her bonnet folded back to show the oorijzer, or "ear iron" used to hold the bonnet on her head. The painting is being sold by Fort Worth collector Howard Walsh Jr., whose parents bought the work from Newhouse Galleries in the 1970s.

The picture was added back into Rembrandt’s corpus by the Rembrandt Research Project in Amsterdam after the restorer Martin Bijl, former chief conservator at the Rijksmuseum, removed some later additions to the work (including a painted fur collar, designed to make the picture into a more saleable formal portrait). Research also discovered that the panel on which the study is painted comes from the same tree as other signature Rembrandt works. The oil is currently on display, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt’s birth, in "Rembrandt’s Studies in Oil, A New Light on an Old Problem," Sept. 22-Dec. 4, 2005, at the Rembrandt House in Amsterdam.

On Sept. 27, 2005, Sotheby’s New York is holding one of the odder events of the fall auction season -- something called "Celebrate Mickey: 75 InspEARations Statue Tour Auction." The sale features 75 indentical, six-foot-tall Mickey Mouse statues, each customized by celebrities from Hollywood and the sports world, with the proceeds going to individual charities. Obviously made with considerable fabrication help from Disney -- the event celebrates the company’s 75th anniversary -- the designs include Mickey holding a computer mouse with computer disks for ears (Jamie Lee Curtis), Mickey dressed as a fan of Notre Dame football (Regis Philbin), Mickey as a Red Sox slugger (Ben Affleck) Mickey dressed in a flamboyant Elton Johns-like costume (Elton Johns), Mickey camouflaged as a map (Jennifer Garner) and Mickey in leopard skin (Star Jones). The sale is expected to bring in at least $1 million.

Last month the big two auction houses put out their numbers for the first six months of 2005, and Christie’s pulled ahead of Sotheby’s in total auction sales, boasting $1.653 billion, an increase of almost 32 percent over the same period in 2004 and the highest half-year total in Christie’s history. Sotheby’s auction total for the first half of 2005 is $1.333 billion.

In 2004, Christie’s announced worldwide sales totaling $2.46 billion, while Sotheby’s set its auction sales at $2.7 billion.

Sotheby’s announced that auction sales for the second quarter of 2005, the period that includes the high-profile spring sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art, totaled approximately $1 billion, a drop of 13 percent from the same period in 2004. The fall-off results in large part from a lack of major collections (the spring 2004 quarter included the collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney, notable for the record-setting sale of Pablo Picasso’s Boy with a Pipe for $104.2 million). One high point was Hong Kong auctions, where sales rose about 50 percent to almost $82 million.

Despite the drop in the auction total, however, Sotheby’s revenues for the quarter increased $9.4 million, or six percent, to $175.6 million. The good result reflects cost-cutting as well as an increase in the buyer’s premium (to 20 percent on the first $200,000 and 12 percent on the rest). Sotheby’s 2005 figures are also the first since 2000 that don’t include costs related to the notorious anti-trust case.

As for Christie’s, which is privately owned (by French financier François Pinault), it reported selling 178 artworks for more than $1 million, compared to 132 works sold during the same period last year. The top lot at Christie’s (and the top lot of the auction season) was Constantin Brancusi’s gray marble Bird in Space (1922-23), which sold for $27.5 million.

Asian art at Christies totalled about $135 million between January and June, far short of the $439 million spent on Impressionist and modern art but outstripping the $73 million spent on Old Masters.

Christie’s has appointed three new experts to its photography department in New York. New senior specialist is Stuart Alexander, an authority in Brassaï and Robert Frank who was previously at Phillips. The other hires are Sarah Shepard as specialist and Penelope Malakates as cataloguer.