Simon Shaw, senior vice president of Sotheby’s, apparently agrees with me that Fall 2011 is (as I recently called it) “The Season of Deaccessions.”
At the press preview today for his auction house’s upcomng Impressionist/Modern and Contemporary sales (Nov. 2 and 9, respectively), Shaw revealed that museum-related lots account for one-fourth, by volume, of Sotheby’s two major evening sales and even more than that by dollar value. “This,” declared Shaw, “is unprecedented.”
David Norman, Sotheby’s worldwide co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art, views this outpouring of museum merchandise as “a vote of confidence about the health of the art market.” But it could instead be driven by a shortage, during difficult economic times, of donated funds and endowment income for acquisitions.
Not all of these museum-related sales are technically “deaccessions”: The Clyfford Stills (featured in a CultureGrrl Video at the end of this post) had been intended for study and display at the new Still Museum in Denver. Instead, they are being sold by the city, which owns all the works given by the estate of the artist’s widow for use by the museum. The proceeds will provide the museum with endowment funds that it had originally been expected to acquire through conventional fundraising.
Also not an ordinary deaccession is a Klimt
landscape at Sotheby’s (estimated “in excess of $25 million”):
Klimt, “Litzlberg am Attersee,” c. 1914-15
It had belonged to the Salzburg Museum of Modern Art, but is
now being sold by Nazi victim Amalie Redlich‘s heir, to whom it was recently
restituted by the museum. Some of those proceeds will be used, in Redlich’s honor, to build an extension to that institution.
Shaw claimed that the “validation and cachet” of the museum provenance are “attractive to collectors.” However, the cognoscenti know that in many such instances (excluding the Stills and the Klimt), museum works are sent to market because the institution believes they are of secondary quality.
Another exception to that rule, though, is an Ernst sculpture—the first deaccession since the 1990s by the Menil Collection, Houston. It’s a duplicate—one of two bronze casts that the museum owned. (It also has another version in mahogany.)
Max Ernst, “Young Man with Beating Heart,” conceived in 1944, cast in 1954
Presale estimate: $400,000-600,000
In my previous rundown (linked at the top of this post) of various upcoming museum-related disposals (also including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Brooklyn Museum and, unmentioned in that post, the Israel Museum), I had cited the Museum of Modern Art’s Tamayo, estimated at $1.5-2 million. But there’s a much higher-estimated MoMA castoff in Christie’s Nov. 1 Impressionist/Modern sale—a Paul Delvaux that the museum acquired by bequest in 2007:
Paul Delvaux, “Les Mains,” 1941
Presale estimate: $6-9 million
Here’s my video of Anthony Grant, Sotheby’s contemporary art specialist, hyping his prize consignment at today’s press preview. You’ll hear him shamelessly suggest that Still might have enjoyed this representative sample of four works: “Still loved the idea of groups of pictures which showed his whole career and here you see 40 years of his career.”
Actually, the artist would have loathed this dispersal of works that he had clearly stipulated (in his will) were never to be sold. He might have been particularly appalled by the monetization of what Grant describes as “one of the best pictures in the entire estate”—used as the cover image for the catalogue of his 1979 retrospective (which he oversaw) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Here’s the Sotheby’s sales pitch: