Christie’s To Auction Ileana Sonnabend Collection

The sale will offer fresh-to-the-market works by Johns, Warhol, and Rauschenberg.

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Andy Warhol, Flowers (1965). Estimate: $1.5 million–2 million. Photo courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
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Jasper Johns, Do it Yourself (Target) (1960).
(Estimate: $2–$3 million).
Photo: Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.
Andy Warhol, Campbell's Soup Can (Tomato) (1962).
(Estimate: $6–$9 million).
Photo: Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.
Robert Rauschenberg, Johanson's Painting (1961).
(Estimate: $4–$6 million.)
Photo: Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.
Jeff Koons, Snorkel Vest (1985).
(Estimate: $1–$1.5 million).
Photo: Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.
Michelangelo Pistoletto, La Stufa di Oldenburg (1965).
(Estimate: $1–$1.5 million).
Photo: Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.
Andy Warhol, Flowers (1965). Estimate: $1.5 million–2 million. Photo courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
Andy Warhol, Flowers (1965). Estimate: $1.5 million–2 million. Photo courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
Andy Warhol, The Kiss (Bela Lugosi) (1963).
(Estimate: $3–$5 million)
Photo: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
Nina Castelli Sonnabend, Leo Castelli, and Ileana Sonnabend.
Photo: Courtesy Christie's.

Christie’s just announced it will sell a group of works from the legendary collection of Ileana Sonnabend and the estate of her daughter, curator and scholar Nina Castelli Sundell, at its upcoming spring sales.

On offer will be major works by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, and Michelangelo Pistoletto. (See: Why Is Christie’s Shaking Up Its Spring Schedule? and Sotheby’s and Christie’s Add Freud, Van Gogh, and Rothko to Spring Sales Lineup).

Sonnabend devoted her life to discovering and championing new art world talent in the 1950s and 1960s. As a release from Christie’s describes it: From her gallery in Paris, Sonnabend introduced European connoisseurs to the then-untested American talents of Pop artists such as Warhol, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Lichtenstein.

“A decade later she reversed the process, using her New York gallery to expose Americans to a new generation of European artists,” the release states. (See: $140 Million Picasso Is World’s Most Expensive Painting At Auction.)

Artworks To Market for the First Time

Along the way, she also assembled an astounding collection of her own, with numerous pieces that have never been on the market before. It boasts classic examples of postwar and contemporary paintings, drawings, and sculptures, as well as major Arte Povera works.

Among the highlights of the offerings are Jasper Johns’s Do it Yourself (Target) (1960), graphite with a paint brush and dry watercolor cakes on a wood frame (estimate: $2–$3 million). When Sonnabend opened her Paris gallery in 1962, the first show there was one of Johns’s paintings.

Rauschenberg’s Johanson’s Painting (1961) a Combine painting with oil, metal, fabric, wood, paper, twine, picture frame, shaving brush and a tin can, is expected to bring $4–$6 million. Rauschenberg was the second artist who Sonnabend showed at her Paris gallery, in 1963.

Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato) (1962), a casein, metallic paint, and graphite on linen, is estimated at $6–$9 million. Also on offer is Michelangelo Pistoletto’s La Stufa di Oldenburg (Oldenburg’s Stove) (1965), paint on paper on steel, which is estimated at $1–$1.5 million, and Jeff Koons‘s Snorkel Vest (1985), cast in bronze (estimate: $1–$1.5 million).

Laura Paulson, chairman and international director for postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s said many of Sonnnabend’s exhibitions “helped determine the course of art history in the late 20th Century, as she discovered and promoted some of the most significant artists of her time.

Not only did her shows in Paris introduce a fresh new wave of American art to Europe, but the galleries she founded also became important centers and forums of avant-garde communication and cultural exchange.”

When the legendary art dealer and former wife of Leo Castelli died in 2007, she left behind an incredible modern and contemporary art collection worth as much as $1 billion. Some of the most important works were sold off in tranches by dealers like Larry Gagosian to settle taxes that alone mounted to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Another important work, Robert Rauschenberg’s Canyon (1959) was the target of an intense battle between the IRS and Sonnabend’s heirs because the work, another of his Combines, contains a stuffed bald eagle. Under U.S. laws enacted after Rauschenberg obtained the bird, selling or exporting the work would constitute a criminal act. It now hangs at the Museum of Modern Art, where it was eventually donated as a gift.


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