A $20-million Martin Kippenberger self-portrait once in the collection of Jeff Koons will be offered at Christie’s New York next month, and a Francis Bacon depiction of a bar owner, tagged at up to $35 million, will go to the auction block at Phillips.
The auction houses are selectively announcing highlights of their upcoming contemporary art sales, to take place at Christie’s on May 13 and at Phillips on May 14 (see Why Is Christie’s Shaking Up Its Spring Auction Schedule? and $140 Million Picasso Is Most Expensive Painting Ever At Auction).
This time around, the Kippenberger self-portrait was consigned by publisher Benedikt Taschen, according to an Instagram post by Christie’s contemporary head Brett Gorvy that shows the portrait in Taschen’s Berlin home. The painting riffs on a famous portrait of Picasso in a rather silly-looking pair of white briefs, taken in 1957 by David Douglas Duncan.
Kippenberger’s self portraits are among the highest-selling of the artist’s works including the current record of $22.6 million, set at Christie’s New York this past November, also for an untitled self portrait created in 1988 (estimate: $15–20 million), as well as the second-highest price, $18.6 million for a self portrait depicting the artist’s face blocked out by a blue balloon (1988) set earlier that same night (November 12) at Christie’s, on an estimate of $9–12 million (see Chinese Restaurant Mogul Zhang Lan Spent Millions at Christie’s).
Nabbing a blue-chip artist such as Bacon is something of a coup for Phillips, which is more typically known for offering works by younger artists such as Alex Israel, Oscar Murillo, and Sterling Ruby. It is also likely a sign of the clout of CEO Edward Dolman, who took the reins at Phillips this past summer after a three year stint with the Qatar Museums Authority, and, prior to that, 27 years at Christie’s, including nearly 11 years as CEO (see Edward Dolman Takes The Helm at Phillips). To date, Phillips has sold only two other works at auction for more than $20 million apiece—paintings by Andy Warhol and Mark Rothko respectively. Bacon’s paintings are among the most expensive in the world, including the current auction record of $142.4 million—the highest ever price at auction—set at Christies in Novemeber 2013 for the artist’s triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969).
According to a report by Colin Gleadell in the Telegraph, Phillips believes the subject of the Bacon portrait is Muriel Belcher, “the foul-mouthed lesbian proprietor of Soho’s Colony Room club who paid Bacon to bring his friends to drink there.” It was previously sold at Sotheby’s Paris in 2007 where it was bought by London dealer Alan Hobart, on behalf of a client, for $20.2 million. The work has in effect already been sold as it carries a guarantee from Phillips.
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