Revealed: The Biggest Consignors to New York’s $2 Billion Spring Auctions, From a Divorcing Heir to a Mexican Financier

Plus, who is offloading a load of work because he's "just done" with art after 15 years of dedicated collecting?

Wayne Thiebaud, Little Deli (2001). Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.
Wayne Thiebaud, Little Deli (2001). Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

The Art Detective is a weekly column by Katya Kazakina for Artnet News Pro that lifts the curtain on what’s really going on in the art market.

The gargantuan auction season has arrived, with more than $1.9 billion worth of art up for sale at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips. That’s almost double last May’s total. The market feels feverish and there’s more top-quality art on offer at once than we’ve seen in years. 

“It feels like May 2008,” a major art dealer told me, referring to the peak of the market cycle right before the financial crisis. 

The consignments come because of death and divorce, museum deaccessioning, and a seemingly insatiable appetite for blue-chip and emerging art. 

The priciest single lot is Andy Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe, estimated at more than $200 million at Christie’s. It comes from the estate of Thomas and Doris Ammann, the sibling Swiss dealers, with the art being sold for charity. The auction house also landed the collection of the arts patron Anne Bass, who died in 2020. The group of just 12 lots is estimated at more than $243 million, led by a pair of crimson Rothkos and a trio of Monets. The top lot is Rothko’s Shades of Red (1961) estimated at $60 million to $80 million.

Sotheby’s continues to offload the trove of divorcees Harry and Linda Macklowe. The court-ordered sale generated $676 million in November. The remaining batch may inject another $200 million into the market, led by a moody, dark Rothko Untitled (1960) estimated at $35 million to $50 million.

The biggest Basquiat of the season (both in terms of price and size) is Untitled (1982), sold by Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa at Phillips. It’s estimated at $70 million and backed by an irrevocable bid. Maezawa bought it six years ago for a then-record $57.3 million at Christie’s.

Institutions are contributing to the heat as well. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is selling a Cubist sculpture by Picasso (it recently received another cast of the same work as a gift from Leonard Lauder), estimated at $30 million at Christie’s. Across town, the Toledo Art Museum expects to raise as much as $64 million from the sale of three paintings—by Cézanne, Matisse, and Renoir—at Sotheby’s. 

Those are the sellers most people know about heading into the auction onslaught. But the Art Detective has identified other noteworthy consignors whose names are not listed in the cataogues.

 

David Martinez 

Jackson Jackson Pollock, Number 31 (1949). Image courtesy Christie's., Number 31 (1949). Image courtesy Christie's.

Jackson Pollock, Number 31 (1949). Image courtesy Christie’s.

The Mexican financier is the anonymous seller of Pollock’s Number 31 (1949), according to a person familiar with his collection. The work will be sold at Christie’s with an estimate of more than $45 million on May 12.

A representative for Martinez said that he often buys and sells art at auction and will never comment on his activities because they are private. 

Modest in size (31 inches tall and 22 inches wide), the drip painting on paper is a dazzling vortex of color and gesture. It sold at auction for $3.5 million in 1988 and has been in private collections in the U.S. and Japan ever since. The current owner acquired the work in 2006 from DL Fine Art in Geneva, a company affiliated with dealer Dominique Lévy, who is known to work with Martinez. The same year, Martinez reportedly purchased another, much larger Pollock, No. 5 (1948), for $140 million from David Geffen. (That figure is still the highest known price ever paid for the Abstract Expressionist master.) 

Pollock’s auction record stands at $61 million for a larger but less characteristic black and white composition, Number 17 (1951), offered during the first part of the Macklowe Collection sale at Sotheby’s in November. 

 

Robert Soros and Melissa Schiff Soros 

Andy Warhol, Elvis (1963). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Andy Warhol, Elvis (1963). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The Macklowe Collection is not the only divorce-driven art sale this season. Andy Warhol’s Elvis (1963) is coming to market as a result of the divorce between financier Robert Soros and Melissa Schiff Soros. The iconic image of Elvis Presley brandishing a gun is estimated at $15 million to $25 million. It’s guaranteed and backed by an irrevocable bid—which means it’s as good as sold. It was previously owned by Frederick Hughes, Warhol’s manager, and then Jane Holzer, a collector and one of Warhol’s superstars, according to the provenance. Soros acquired it in 1998. 

Soros didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. 

 

Steve Cohen 

Pablo Picasso, Femme nue couchée (1932). Photo courtesy of Sotheby's New York.

Pablo Picasso, Femme nue couchée (1932). Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s New York.

The mega-collector, hedge-fund titan, and Mets owner is the anonymous seller of Femme nue couchée (1932), the most expensive Picasso of the season, according to people familiar with his collection. Estimated at $60 million, it will be offered at Sotheby’s on May 17. 

The striking work depicts Picasso’s young lover Marie-Thérèse Walter as an octopus-like creature against a pastel blue background. 

Sotheby’s declined to comment on the seller’s identity. Representatives for Cohen did not return calls seeking comment. 

Cohen has owned the painting since 2008. Before that, it was in the collection of the Picasso family.

 

David Sambol 

Lisa Yuskavage, Studio (2009). Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

Lisa Yuskavage, Studio (2009). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd.

David Sambol is selling various works from his collection at Christie’s evening and day auctions, according to people familiar with the group. Key among them are Little Deli (2001) by Wayne Thiebaud, estimated at $4 million to $6 million; Studio (2009) by Lisa Yuskavage, estimated at $700,000 to $1 million; and Tumbling Forms (2015) by George Condo, estimated at $1.5 million to $2.5 million. 

Sambol, who is selling anonymously, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Christie’s declined to comment. The lots are designated in the catalogue as “property from an important private collection.”  

“He’s collected for 15 years,” said a person familiar with his holdings. “He’s just done. Some collections have a shelf life. Not everyone is a King Tut and wants to be buried with them.” 

 

Patrick De Pauw 

Francis Bacon, Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd Version 1971 (1971). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Francis Bacon, Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd Version 1971 (1971). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Patrick De Pauw, a scion of a Belgian collecting family, is taking another crack at selling Francis Bacon’s Study for Red Pope 1962, 2nd Version 1971 (1971), according to people familiar with the collection. It was purchased in 1973 and acquired by descent by a “private European collector” who is selling anonymously, according to Sotheby’s provenance.  

Estimated at $40 million to $60 million, the 6.5-foot-tall canvas will be offered at Sotheby’s on May 19. The lot carries an in-house guarantee, ensuring that the sellers are paid regardless of the auction outcome. 

This may be risky since the painting failed to sell back in 2017 when it was offered by Christie’s in London. At the time, it was estimated at £60 million ($78 million). The low estimate now is almost a half that, a savvy move to generate interest. 

It’s the only canvas by Bacon that depicts his lover George Dyer and Pope Innocent X, two of the artist’s most famous subjects, in the same composition. They appear to be looking at one another through glass.  


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