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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

At Sotheby’s, a piece of blue-chip art from the bitter Macklowe divorce brings in $676 million

It was a source of contention between the divorced millionaire and his wife. It was a hotly contested item among auction houses. And on Monday night, there was a bidding war for it.

Jackson Pollock, whose “Number 17, 1951,” from his Black Paintings series, sold for $61 million with fees, and Agnes Martin, whose “Untitled #44,” exhibiting narrow bands of delicate colour, sold for $17.7 million, both achieved auction-record sales prices.

Some of the most expensive works on display included an Alberto Giacometti sculpture, “Le Nez” (“The Nose”), from 1964, which sold for $78.4 million, well above its estimated value of $70 million, and a Mark Rothko painting, “No. 7,” from 1951, which went for $82.5 million plus commissions to an unidentified Asian bidder. It was the second-highest auction price ever achieved for a piece by this Abstract Expressionist artist, and it well above the low estimate of $70 million.

“It’s a really powerful market,” remarked Eugenio López Alonso, the collector and heir to the fruit juice fortune, as he walked out of the auction on Monday. “High-quality products always sell.”

The auction, which was the first of two parts — the second is set for May — was keenly watched as a litmus test for an art market that is just now beginning to emerge from the ravages of the flu epidemic. The value of the loot discovered on Monday night had been estimated at $400 million.

Following a 30% fall from $25.2 billion in 2019, according to the latest Art Market report issued by Art Basel and UBS, auction sales have been seeking for a boost. The market has reached its lowest level in a decade at $17.6 billion in 2020 from $25.2 billion in 2019.

The Macklowe Collection also represented a much-needed breath of fresh air for a market that had been suffering from a lack of high-quality inventory due to a demand that outstripped supply.

On Monday evening, the Macklowes’ contentious divorce procedures concluded in a court-ordered auction of their art collection, which included 35 pieces that spanned from postwar to contemporary in style and sold all of them.

The bidding was particularly intense for lots such as Philip Guston’s “Strong Light,” which was painted in his distinctive pink tones and sold for $24.4 million, and Gerhard Richter’s colourful picture “Abstraktes Bild,” which sold for $33 million.

Linda Macklowe was the primary collector in the relationship, according to art dealer Andrew Fabricant, who claimed he had sold her several of the objects from Monday’s auction to Linda Macklowe.

Recent market trends were reflected in the salesroom, particularly the significant purchasing from Asia, which accounted for 30 percent of the auction house’s overall sales in the previous calendar year.

Given the lack of painters of colour and the paucity of female artists — only Agnes Martin and Tauba Auerbach were featured in Monday’s auction — the auction was seen as a relic of a bygone era by some. According to Adam Lindemann, the gallerist and collector, “This is the collection of a generation that is dying away – an elderly white man’s collection.” In the long run, these things will be fantastic, but is this what a young tech millionaire desires? “I don’t believe so.”

The trader, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, was of the opposite opinion. “They may be preoccupied with the latest and greatest,” she remarked of youthful collectors. “However, they also want to be a part of history.”

thousands of people flocked to New York’s Museum of Modern Art to see the Macklowe collection, which had previously travelled to Taiwan and Hong Kong before returning to New York. They knew they might be seeing some of the world’s most prized artworks for the last time before they were sold to private collectors or disappeared altogether.

When you consider how much pleasure the work has afforded Linda Macklowe over the course of a half-century, Fabricant characterised the court-ordered sale as “a terrible denouement.”

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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