$35 Million for De Kooning Sculpture at Christie’s? Bananas.

PROPERTY FROM THE LISA DE KOONING TRUST WILLEM DE KOONING (1904-1997) Clamdigger bronze 59 1/2 x 29 5/8 x 23 3/4 in. Executed In 1972. This work is an artist's proof from an edition of seven plus three artist's proofs. Estimate: 25,000,000-35,000,000

At the biannual New York auctions each May and November, abstract paintings by Willem de Kooning are frequently among the works that incite heated bidding wars and command tens of millions of dollars. Sculpture, which the artist embraced relatively late in his career, is seen far less frequently on the auction block; while the record for a painting stands at $32 million, the highest auction price for a De Kooning sculpture is $5.7 million.

This fall, Christie’s could change that when it offers Clamdigger (1972), created when the artist was living in eastern Long Island and inspired by the men he observed working on the beach. The large bronze, de Kooning’s only full-size male figure, comes with a hefty $25–$35 million estimate.

It is widely regarded as a self-portrait of sorts. Lending an extra dash of historical cachet for potential collectors is the fact that De Kooning kept the work for himself, positioning it at the entrance to his studio so it was the first piece he laid eyes on each day.

In her New York Times column this week, Carol Vogel described the work as a “gnarled, tactile figure with somewhat Neanderthal features: a small head, sunken eyes and oversize feet.” The artist’s daughter Lisa de Kooning inherited the work when he died in 1997. After she passed away, it became part of a trust for her three daughters, who have decided to sell the work in order to pay taxes on their mother’s estate.

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