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Museum Imprimatur: UBS to Sell MoMA-Showcased Works at Sotheby&#146s UPDATED

Robert Rauschenberg, “Untitled,” 1958
Presale estimate: $1-1.5 million

MoMA’s potential misstep has now become a mishap.

In 2005, it lavished a major exhibition on works from a single corporate collection, during a time when many practical-minded, bottom line-oriented companies were thinking about liquidating their art,

At least two (possibly three) works from MoMA’s exhibition, “Contemporary Voices: Works from the UBS Art Collection,” are included in Sotheby’s evening Contemporary sale on Wednesday. They are among 12 UBS works being unloaded both at that sale and at Sotheby’s Contemporary day sale on Thursday. The total presale estimate for the UBS consignments is $4-5.9 million. The above-illustrated Rauschenberg from the MoMA show is the second-highest estimated UBS work, exceeded only by a de Kooning.

In a CultureGrrl post, I had criticized MoMA’s UBS display:

It [the UBS show] included works still privately owned by UBS, in addition to those given [or promised] to MoMA. This broke with MoMA’s own policy of not displaying private collections unless they are promised. UBS can now, if it chooses, do what so many other corporations have done once the art-collecting CEO (in this case, MoMA trustee Donald Marron) leaves the business: It can sell these works, their value enhanced by MoMA’s prestigious imprimatur.

That is exactly what is now happening.

This Beuys, in Sotheby’s Thursday sale, is on MoMA’s published checklist for its UBS show:

Joseph Beuys, “Hind,” c. 1950
Presale estimate: $200,000-300,000

According to Sotheby’s catalogue, the Sam Francis below was also in MoMA’s show, but it’s not on the museum’s checklist. (I’m checking with MoMA and will update if I get this clarified.)

[UPDATE: A MoMA spokesperson said that the Sam Francis was NOT in the museum’s show, notwithstanding what’s in Sotheby’s catalogue.]


Sam Francis, “Untitled,” 1958
Presale estimate: $400,000-500,000

The Rauschenberg and Francis are works on paper. The Beuys is a collage mounted on glass and metal.

The de Kooning—an untitled pastel-and-charcoal on paper—was not in MoMA’s show but was also given widespread museum exposure, as part of a traveling exhibition of works from Paine Webber (which in 2000 merged with UBS, along with its art collection):

Willem de Kooning, “Untitled,” c. 1950
Presale estimate: $1.2-1.8 million

According to Sotheby’s catalogues, the Rauschenberg and six UBS works to be offered in the day sale were (like the de Kooning) in this 1995-97 museum exhibition, which alighted at prestigious venues—the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Detroit Institute of Art, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, San Diego Museum of Art, Miami Center for the Arts.

To the best of my knowledge, those institutions, unlike MoMA, do not have policies against showcasing private collections. Thanks to Marron’s oversight, much of Paine Webber’s collection was museum-worthy and the company had museum-like standards of curatorship. But it’s never a happy result when a nonprofit museum’s display of a private collection later becomes a for-profit selling point.

Marron is a frequent auction-goer. Maybe he’ll want some of these back.

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