A Look at the Financiers, Celebrities and Other Consignors Behind the May Auction Sales

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in On Balancethe ARTnews newsletter about the art market and beyond. Sign up here to receive it every Wednesday.

The annual May auction sales in New York are always an important indicator of the market’s health, and next month’s sales appear all the more notable after a year most art dealers would rather forget. And you can add to that more than a little pearl-clutching that the art market is all but ready to collapse.

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Even so, auction performance almost always comes down to the material, and this May’s sales are conspicuously lacking in major estates, apart from the Rosa de la Cruz collection, which goes on offer at Christie’s on May 14 before its general 20th/21st Century Art sale. Perusing the provenance of the major evening sales indicates that a great many of the works are fresh to market or close to it, with quite a few having spent a fair amount of time within one collection after having been bought from a gallery, estate, or directly from the artist. The general composition of the lots suggests hard work on the part of the specialists, who no doubt had to comb through their Rolodexes for novel material that could get collectors excited in an iffy market—after all, that freshness may be just the salve the market needs.

At Phillips, the Modern and Contemporary evening sale on May 14 is full of works being sold by the descendants of deceased collectors. There are, of course, the two early Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings that were in the collection of anthropologist Francesco Pellizzi, who bought them from Basquiat’s first dealer, Annina Nosei, in the early ’80s. The most valuable among them—with an estimate of $40 million–$60 million—is Untitled (ELMAR), a monumental 1982 painting that Pellizzi sold to another collector who is now selling it at Phillips. But Untitled (Portrait of Famous Ballplayer), a 1981 painting estimated at $6.5 million to $8.5 million, comes directly from the Pellizzi family. 

a blue and yellow painting with two figures.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (ELMAR), 1982.

Then there are two works, Henri Matisse’s Portrait de femme (1917) and Marc Chagall’s Fleurs chez Bella (1935-1938), being sold by the descendants of Ruth Mae Morris Bakwin and Harry Bakwin, two New York–based pediatricians, who died decades ago. Their sons, Edward Morris and Michael Bakwin both died in 2019. The descendants of Jeanne and Joseph Sullivan, founders of the chemical company Vigoro and noted Chicago philanthropists, are selling Jean Dubuffet’s 1957 work Paysage à la vache (Le rendez-vous)—estimate $700,000–$1 million—while the descendants of the late Los Angeles doctor Jacob Terner and his wife, Sandra, have put up Jules Olitski’s Boyar Time (The Small Painting), a 1962 work with a $400,000–$600,000 estimate. (A longtime trustee of LACMA, Sandra received the title of Lifetime Trustee.)

But while those consignors were known by a glance at the provenance, ARTnews had to dig through the listings to reveal some others.

First up is the Noah Davis 2010 painting Untitled (Boy with Glasses), which is being sold by Aryn Drake-Lee, the ex-wife of Grey’s Anatomy star and rising collector Jesse Williams. While the painting was listed as in the couple’s collection when it was last exhibited at Seattle’s Frye Art Museum in 2016, a spokesperson for Williams told ARTnews that it went into Drake-Lee’s possession after their divorce in late 2020. The Davis work will hit the block at the Phillips May 14 sale (est. $150,000–$200,000).

Williams has become a notable young collector of art from the African diaspora, holding 250 works, many of them by emerging artists. Of Davis, Williams once told ARTnews, “He was my brother—a very good friend of mine … Being able to live with his work and have it right by my doorway when everybody comes in and out—and gets washed over by it—is critical for me.”

Barkley Hendricks’s Vendetta, a 1977 oil and acrylic painting of a Black woman in a tank top that reads Bitch, is set for the same Phillips Modern and Contemporary Evening Sale on May 14. That work carries a $2.5 million to $3.5 million estimate; it was last seen in the landmark 2008 exhibition, “Barkley Hendricks: Birth of the Cool” at Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art. The seller is Richard D. Segal, CEO of Seavest Investment Group and a trustee at the Whitney Museum; the work is currently held in Segal’s eponymous Seavest Collection.

It appears that dealer Marianne Boesky is selling Frank Stella’s Lettre sur les sourds et muets II, a painting of concentric squares nearly 12 by 12 feet in size that carries an estimate of $5 million to $7 million. The provenance for the May 14 Phillips sale says it was acquired directly from the artist in 2017. The piece was featured in an exhibition of Stella’s work at the Charles Riva Collection in Brussels throughout 2017, where it was cited as Private Collection Marianne Boesky. Boesky declined to comment.

Tracey Emin’s 2018 But you never wanted me is consigned by Stuart and Gina Peterson at the Sotheby’s “The Now” Evening Auction May 13 after being exhibited at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in its 2022 exhibition “Women Painting Women.” Stuart is a venture capitalist who is most famously an early investor in YouTube, while Gina is president of the Peterson Family Foundation and a trustee of SFMOMA and the Met in New York, among other museum affiliations.

The Petersons aren’t the only high-finance collectors who appear to be doing some spring cleaning. ARTnews Top 200 collectors Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman appear to be selling Julie Mehretu’s Fever graph (algorithm for serendipity), from 2013. The work has been sold only once, by Marian Goodman Gallery, and the Baltimore Museum of Art listed the couple as lending the work for its 2019 show “Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art Now.” Fuhrman declined to comment on the sale.

Artnet News reported this past March that Richard Schlagman, the enigmatic former owner of Phaidon Press, is selling the Brice Marden diptych Event (est. $30 million–$50 million), also at the Christie’s 20th/21st Century Art sale. And the listings suggest that may be far from the only work Schlagman is putting up: could he be the consignor of several “Abstract Masterworks from a Distinguished Private Collection” in that sale? The works with that appellation include: Web #10 (2006) by Vija Celmins (est. $2.5 million–$3.5 million); Uke (2012) by German-born, London-based artist Tomma Abts (est. $200,000–$300,000); and Robert Mangold’s 1999 work  Four Figures II (A & B & C & D) (est. $700,000–$1 million). Christie’s did not immediately return a request for comment.

Schlagman has been described as “one of the more mysterious figures in the publishing industry,” whom staff at Phaidon referred to as a “Bond villain” type; he lives alone with his housekeeper between London and a Marcel Breuer–designed villa on Lake Maggiore in the Swiss Alps. Schlagman holds a seat on the board of the Judd Foundation and has a reputation for collecting Minimalist art.

At Sotheby’s May 13 Modern evening sale, Swiss art trading firm Diane SA is selling René Magritte’s oil painting La Main heureuse with an estimate of $3.5 million to $5.5 million. Dallas-based oil and gas baron Barron U. Kidd is selling his Paul Cézanne Les Bastides Lou Deven et Barbaroux with an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. The watercolor and graphite artwork was most recently included in a 2021 exhibition of the artist’s drawings at MoMA.

At the Sotheby’s Contemporary sale on the same day, Alice Neel’s 1969 portrait of Gerard Malanga, the Andy Warhol confidant and studio assistant who arguably made more Warhols than Warhol did, will be on offer with an estimate of $1.5 million to $2 million. The artwork went directly from the artist’s estate to Locks Gallery in Philadelphia, from which the current owner acquired it in 2005; it was last shown at the Munch Museum in Oslo in the 2023 show “Alice Neel: Every Person Is a New Universe,” which listed it as coming from the collection of the Locks Foundation.

Lastly, two works in that Sotheby’s sale, Agnes Martin’s 1959 canvas Earth II (est. $3 million–$4 million) and Andy Warhol’s 1961 Carat (est. $5 million–$7 million), are being sold by the Daros Collection , the private collection of Swiss industrialist, financier, and ARTnews Top 200 collector Stephan Schmidheiny.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story listed Jesse Williams as a co-consignor of the Noah Davis painting. He is not. ARTnews regrets the error.

Source: artnews.com

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