Revealed: The Silent Consignors to the $506 Million London Auctions, From an Israeli Real Estate Tycoon to One of Mexico’s Richest Men

Estimates are down at next week’s sales, but international sellers are still banking on London.

Art handlers hold a painting titled Souvenir de Voyage by Rene Magritte, estimate: £2,500,000-3,500,000 during a photo call for the upcoming 20th/21st Century Evening Sale and The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale in London, United Kingdom on February 21, 2023. Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images.

Presale estimates for the London series of Modern and Contemporary art sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips this February and March (starting on Tuesday, 28 February) are down 26 percent from last year. Whether that is part of a negative Brexit effect or just a sign of the times generally is hard to pin-point. Including the lower-value day sales, the total estimate is £355 million ($506 million) (before any withdrawn lots) compared to £461 million ($652 million) last year—and that’s despite the fact that the auction houses have increased the number of lots on offer from 419 to 618 (or by 49 percent).

Christie’s total presale estimate for five sales, including the online-only First Open sale, has sunk most—by 33.5 percent from a presale lower estimates value of £223 million last year to £159 million. Sotheby’s has decreased the number of lots offered by 15.5 percent from 269 to 233 over three sales, with a presale lower estimated value falling from £205 million to £162 million. The sharpest drop comes for Sotheby’s ultra-contemporary “Now” sale which, in spite of retaining a similar number of lots, has fallen in estimated pre-sale value by over half from £15.6 million to £6.8 million. Only Phillips, with the smallest contribution, has retained its predicted performance level. With slightly fewer lots than last year, pre-sale lower estimates have risen by 9 percent from £31 million to £33.9 million thanks to an already publicized consignment of two works by Gerhard Richter and Willem de Kooning from the eminent French collector, Marcel Brient, valued between £17 and 20 million ($20.9 to $20.9 million). Brient had previously preferred to sell through Sotheby’s or Christie’s. 

Among the unnamed consignors in the London catalogues that Artnet News can reveal are:

Gary and Kathie Heidenreich

Óscar Domínguez, Machine à coudre électro - sexuelle (1934-1935). Courtesy Christie's Images Limited 2023.

Óscar Domínguez, Machine à coudre électro – sexuelle (1934-1935). Courtesy Christie’s Images Limited 2023.

With Sotheby’s shifting its surrealist focus to Paris, it is left to Christie’s, which has long prided itself on its specialized surrealist sales under the direction of Olivier Camu, to carry the torch for surrealism in London. Their major presale announcement concerned a collection sale they have termed anonymously as “Memory of a Surreal Journey: Property from an Important San Francisco Bay Area Collection,” including 25 works with a presale estimate of £13 million – £18 million ($15.6 million –$21.6 million).

Artnet News understands that the collectors are San Jose based Gary and Kathie Heidenreich, who have lent several of the works for sale to museum exhibitions in the past where they are credited as lenders. The couple were largely advised by California’s surrealist specialist dealer, Wendi Norris, who did not comment on their identity but recalled taking them to Mexico 20 years ago where they had lunch with Leonora Carrington—a lunch that inspired them to go on their “surreal journey.”

That journey led them from the now established Carrington to Magritte (their most recent acquisition) and, on the way, to potential record breakers by Óscar Dominguez, Remedios Varo, Wolfgang Paalen and the little-known British artist, Stella Snead. The Dominguez, Machine à coudre électro sexuelle (1934-35), estimated at £2 million – £3 million ($2.4 million – $3.6 million), was bought by the couple at Christie’s in 2013 for a record £2.1 million ($3.3 million). Proceeds from the sale will go to the couple’s philanthropic foundation for the education of children, says Norris. 

Elie Khouri

Shara Hughes, Sticks and Stones (2018). Courtesy Sotheby's London.

Shara Hughes, Sticks and Stones (2018). Courtesy Sotheby’s London.

Designated as “Property from a Distinguished Private Collection,” Sticks and Stones, 2018, by Shara Hughes, has an estimate of £400,000 – £600,000 ($478,654 – $717,981) in Sotheby’s “Now” sale on Wednesday which is one of the highest yet for the artist whose record was set last year at an enticing $2.9 million for would-be sellers.

Sticks and Stones was bought from San Francisco’s Berggruen Gallery in 2018 when it formed the centerpiece of the artist’s exhibition of psychedelic, surreal flower paintings, just before auction prices for her ascended into six figures. The buyer, and this week’s anonymous seller, Elie Khouri, is a Lebanese-born, Dubai-based marketing and advertizing executive, who has represented companies such as Pepsi, Yves Saint Laurent, LVMH, and McDonalds. Khouri is currently the chairman of communications company Omnicom Media Group. A member of the MoMA’s Media and Performance Committee, as well as the Tate’s Middle East and North Africa Acquisitions Committee, he has collected over 200 contemporary works in the last decade and exhibited this work at the Arts Club Dubai in 2021 amongst other works from his collection by market hot shots Julie Curtiss and Derek Adams. 

Alex Hank

Philippe Parreno, Marquee M1535 (2015). Courtesy Sotheby's London.

Philippe Parreno, Marquee M1535 (2015). Courtesy Sotheby’s London.

French artist Philippe Parreno is not a popular artist at auction—that is, there is not much sold on the secondary market. As Wikipedia puts it, his style is more project- than object-based. To the cognoscenti, that is probably a plus, but the occasional object does occasionally surface. Such is the case with Marquee M1535, a 10 foot long, transparent plexiglass sculpture with neons and bulbs made in 2015, which has one of the highest estimates yet for the artist at £150,000 – £200,000 ($179,481 – $239,307) at Sotheby’s “Now” sale in London on Wednesday.

The sculpture is part of a series of “Marquee” works that were inspired by the lights that hung over cinema entrances in America in the 1950s. A larger version was commissioned for Tate’s Turbine Hall, and is now in the museum’s collection. Smaller variants are in the Pinault and Beyeler collections. This example, to be auctioned, was acquired from the Gladstone Gallery in New York by Alex Hank, the artist son of Carlos Hank Rhon who, according to Forbes, has a $3 billion fortune and is no 10 on Mexico’s rich list as owner of Grupo Hermes, an industrial conglomerate with interests in construction, infrastructure, energy, tourism and car dealerships. 

In 2019, Marquee M1535 was exhibited at Gstaad airport as part of the Alex Hank collection alongside works by Matthew Barney, Marlene Dumas, Dan Flavin, Alberto Giacometti, Jenny Holzer, Anne Imhof, Toba Khedoori, Sol LeWitt, Glenn Ligon, On Kawara, John McCracken, Neo Rauch, Gerhard Richter, Egon Schiele, Richard Serra, DeWain Valentine, Lawrence Weiner, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

Igal Ahouvi

Haim Steinback, Untitled (Boba Fett) (2012). Courtesy Christie's Images Limited 2023.

Haim Steinback, Untitled (Boba Fett) (2012). Courtesy Christie’s Images Limited 2023.

Real estate developer and Israel Museum of Art trustee, Igal Ahouvi owns a private art collection that numbers over 1,200 works, making it one of the largest in Israel. Artists in the collection include Gerhard Richter, Cindy Sherman, Andreas Gursky, Marlene Dumas, and David Hammons. More recent acquisitions include works by Lucas Arruda and Genieve Figgis. About 50 percent of the artists are Israeli, but they only make up 5 percent of the value, he told Larry’s List in 2020. Ahouvi is not known for making disposals publicly, but at Christie’s he is the “Distinguished Private Collector” in their contemporary day sale catalogue who is selling a 6 foot work by Haim Steinbach—Untitled (Boba Fett) 2012—titled with reference to the Star Wars bounty hunter character Boba Fett, and was bought in 2012 from White Cube. 

Dealer Tanya Bonakdar’s website notes that “For more than four decades, Haim Steinbach has explored the psychological, aesthetic, cultural and ritualistic aspects of collecting and arranging already existing objects. His work engages the concept of ‘display’ as a form that foregrounds objects, raising consciousness of the play of presentation.”

Prices for Steinbach peaked at the charity RED auction at Sotheby’s New York in 2008, when his donation made $176,000. A couple of months later at a normal Sotheby’s sale, a work from the Nasher collection sold for $79,000 against a $6,000 low estimate. But more recently his work has been less sought after. Untitled (Boba Fett) 2012 has an estimate of just £15,000–£20,000 ($17,965 – $23,953).   

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