Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in On Balance, the ARTnews newsletter about the art market and beyond. Sign up here to receive it every Wednesday.
In the upcoming New York sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips later this month, one of the priciest artworks won’t be on the walls, or even in New York. Rather, it will be sitting between Hole 10 and Hole 17 at Gillette Ridge, a public golf course in Bloomfield, Connecticut.
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The Family by Isamu Noguchi is due to hit the auction block at the Sotheby’s New York Modern Evening Auction on May 16 with an estimate of $6 million to $8 million. It will almost certainly reset Noguchi’s current auction record of $4.73 million, set at Christie’s in 2017 by the sculpture Garden Elements.
The Connecticut General Life Insurance Company commissioned the monumental sculpture in 1956 for its then new corporate campus in Bloomfield. The Stonehenge-like arrangement of three totemic forms—the tallest rising 16 feet—consists of granite from the Stony Brook quarry, around 50 miles south of Bloomfield. It was installed on the grounds in 1957, the year the headquarters opened.
Named for Connecticut General former president, Frazar B. Wilde, the headquarters is an iconic building designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, who is also responsible for such similarly iconic buildings as Lever House in Manhattan. Noguchi also designed a garden for the Wilde Building, as well as other sculptural elements. In 1982 Connecticut General merged with INA Corporation to become the health care company Cigna Insurance. (Cigna had plans to tear down the Wilde building in 2001, about which local architect Tyler Smith wrote in the Hartford Courant, “For Cigna to destroy this site is an act of barbarism.” Cigna ended up nixing the idea.)
Cigna is the seller of the Noguchi, which sits on a portion of the campus developed in the early 2000s into a company-owned public golf course, the only one in the Northeast designed by Arnold Palmer, of pro golf and half-iced-tea-half-lemonade fame. On a clear fall day, the Noguchi is visible from the clubhouse. At least one local art lover is sad to see it go. Jordan Stein, general manager of Gillette Ridge, told ARTnews earlier this week, “I’m going to miss it.”
This isn’t Cigna’s first venture on the auction block; the company sold some 200 pieces through Sotheby’s in 2004. At the same time, it donated 5,000 artworks and artifacts to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., among other institutions. A Cigna rep told the Courant at the time that the company would keep its contemporary art collection, which sat in employee offices and common areas, and that it would use proceeds from the auctioned works to buy works by emerging artists. Cigna did not return a request for comment on whether the Noguchi sale indicates that more art sales are in store.
But wait, there’s more!
The Ellsworth Kelly painting Black White (1967) is due to sell at the Christie’s New York 20th Century Evening Auction on May 11 with an estimate of $3.5 million to $5.5 million. The painting had long been in the collection of Dallas-based philanthropist and ARTnews Top 200 Collector Marguerite Hoffman. However, it appears that it is not Hoffman selling the painting. According to the provenance, the current owner bought it from an unnamed collector who purchased it from New York’s Matthew Marks Gallery. It appears likely that Hoffman and her late husband, Robert, purchased the painting from Marks and then sold it to the current consignor. If that is the case, it would be a relatively quick turnaround: the painting appears in Amor Mundi, a book devoted to Hoffman’s collection published only last year.
Hoffman’s collection, along with that of two other Dallas families—the Rachofskys and the Roses—was bequeathed to the Dallas Museum of Art in 2005, meaning the collection goes to the museum after the owner’s death. Black White appeared in Fast Forward, a 2006 exhibition and catalogue at the museum dedicated to those collections. It is understood that bequeathing families may sell works during their lifetime, and Howard Rachofsky has already done so, selling a Christina Quarles painting for $4.5 million at Sotheby’s last year. The Rachofskys and Hoffman continue to acquire artworks; Amor Mundi shows that Hoffman has been diversifying her collection.
“We are grateful that Marguerite continues to steward her collection in a way that allows it to grow, change, and stay relevant for the long-term benefit of the Dallas Museum of Art,” a spokesman for the museum told ARTnews.
Christie’s declined to comment, citing client confidentiality.
In other news, David Shuman, founder of Northwoods Capital Management and a Guggenheim trustee from 2015 to 2019, is listed in public documents as the owner of Matthew Wong’s 2017 canvas The Jungle, which is slated for the Sotheby’s New York May 18 Now Evening Auction, with an estimate of $1.2 million. The painting had been listed in a Sotheby’s sale in Hong Kong last year, but was ultimately pulled.
Sotheby’s is also selling Picasso’s Nu devant la glace (1932), depicting French model Marie-Thérèse Walter and created in Boisgeloup, at its Modern Evening Auction on May 16, with an estimate of $12 million to $18 million. The work, which is guaranteed, comes from the collection of Bettina and Donald Bryant, who have appeared on the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list. It was last shown at Tate Modern in 2018 as part of the exhibition Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy.
(A Sotheby’s spokesperson declined to comment on either sale citing reasons related to consignor confidentiality; Shuman could not be reached via a representative.)
And, last but not least, three abstract paintings by Morris Louis—all of which have been exhibited in connection with 91-year-old Washington, D.C., real estate developer Robert P. Kogod—are to be offered at the Christie’s New York 20th Century Evening Sale on May 11. They have a collective estimate of $5.8 million. Kogod, and his wife, Arlene, are noted philanthropists; a courtyard connecting the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery bears their name.