Sotheby’s Hopes to Break Records With Rare $60 Million Twombly Blackboard Painting This Fall


Sotheby’s is offering a rare Cy Twombly “blackboard” painting this fall—one of the few remaining in private hands—with an asking price around $60 million.

That puts the painting in the running for a potential new record for Twombly at auction. The current record is $69.6 million, which was set in November 2014 at Christie’s New York for another untitled blackboard painting dating from 1970.

The auction house is selling this particular example from 1968 at its evening contemporary sale on November 11. It hails from the collection of Los Angeles philanthropist Audrey Irmas. Irmas acquired the work in 1990, when Sotheby’s last sold it as part of an offering from the Charles Saatchi collection. At that time it sold for $3.85 million on an estimate of $3.5 million to $4.5 million, a reflection of how far the market for Twombly, along with the broader contemporary art market, has come in recent years. To put it in perspective, the current estimate is more than 12 times the high estimate from 1990.

To date, more than five Twombly works have sold for more than $20 million a piece at auction, according to the artnet Price Database.

While Twombly was in Rome in 1966, the artist “abruptly deviated from his Baroque paintings, characterized by rich, colorful compositions,” according to Sotheby’s experts. In a poetic moment for the auction house, the release states, “This iconic series combines the figurative and the abstract, with rhythmic, illegible script in chalk-white crayon dancing along a cool-grey backdrop.”

Anthony Grant, Sotheby’s Americas vice chairman, upped the ante, stating, “The date, scale, and distinguished provenance of Untitled (1968) [New York City] place it as one of the most important examples of Cy Twombly’s celebrated ‘Blackboard’ series remaining in private hands.”

Proceeds of the sale will benefit The Audrey Irmas Foundation for Social Justice, which supports causes championed by her and her late husband, Sydney, including the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which will receive $30 million from the sale.

The funds will jump-start the campaign for the Temple’s new building, designed by Rem Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), which will be named The Audrey Irmas Pavilion.

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