Willem de Kooning, Untitled XXI 1976. Estimate US$25-35 million / HK$195-273 million. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s
HONG KONG– More than 500 works from the collection of the legendary collector, philanthropist, businessman and shopping-mall magnet A. Alfred Taubman will be sold in a series of dedicated auctions beginning this autumn at New York Sotheby’s. Stretching from antiquity to contemporary art, the Alfred Taubman art collection is valued in excess of US$500 million / HK$3.9 billion, making it the most valuable private collection ever offered at auction.
Before the announcement of the A. Alfred Taubman art collection sale, there was high hope that Detroit Institute of Art which had benefitted from Taubman’s generosity will, get some artworks from the collection. Sadly, the museum which has a wing named after the philanthropist, may lose out. Beyond the collection going on sale, eight works that Taubman had lent to the museum will also be removed and sold. Some of the works include Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery by Pietro da Crtona, Crowning with Thorns by Valentin de Boulogne, Christ Preaching to the Disciples by Giovanni Battista Caracciolo, and Penitent Magdalene by Guercino. During his life time, Taubman donated tens of millions of dollars and about 24 artworks that are part of the museum’s permanent collection.
Sotheby’s won the right to auction the Taubman art collection after a fierce fight with its archrival Christie’s. To win the contest, Sotheby’s had to make several concessions chiefly of which was offering the Taubman estate a guarantee. The guarantee gives Taubman estate cover for any eventualities during the auction. The guarantee, a practice employed by auction houses, promises the seller a minimum price on his art or collection. What this simply means is that if an artwork or collection does not make the stipulated estimate, the seller has nothing to lose because the auction house or outside guarantor is responsible for the shortfall.
The opportunity to sell the Taubman art collection is a big win for Sotheby’s, which has not been able to match Christie’s in terms of sales volume. To lose the contest to auction the collection of one of its founders to Christie’s world have been adding salt to injury. But more importantly, it would have presented Sotheby’s new president and chief executive Tad Smith in a bad light. When he took office in March, Mr. Smith promised shareholders that he would bring new energy to the auction house and also make judicious use of guarantee. His shrewd use of guarantee seem to have worked this time with the Taubman estate.
Alfred Taubman, who passed away in April at the age of 91, was an ardent collector throughout his life. Included in the Alfred Taubman art collection are an impressive number of iconic artists such as Mark Rothko and Frank Stella; Pablo Picasso and Egon Schiele; Winslow Homer and Charles Burchfield; and Albrecht Dürer and Raphael.
From his early training as an architect, to critical roles as a founder of the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution, a board member of the Whitney Museum of American Art and longtime Chairman of the Arts Commission of Detroit, the entity which oversaw the Detroit Institute of Arts, Taubman was always looking for great art to add to his collection.
Over the years, the collection grew to include important works of art. Simon Shaw, Co-Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department Worldwide note that the collection shows “Alfred had an exceptional visual sense that informed his collecting.” Speaking on the upcoming auction, Simon Shaw also notes that collectors will be amazed by Taubman’s astute collection. He notes: “The upcoming auctions will unveil Alfred’s extraordinary taste across periods and genres. The Taubman name will join such storied American collections as Ford, Gould, Dorrance, Havemeyer and Thannhauser. Interestingly, a number of the works we are presenting for sale were formerly part of those esteemed collections.”
Alex Rotter, Co-Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department Worldwide shares the views expressed by Mr. Shaw. Rotter commented that the collection is filled with exciting stories. He notes: “Individual works in the collection, which Alfred personally selected over a half century, tell equally exciting stories, with stunning examples by Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock, bearing the marks of such storied galleries as Leo Castelli, Betty Parsons, and Xavier Fourcade.”
An insightful man with an eye on the future, A. Alfred Taubman launched The Taubman Company with a US$5,000 loan. Dedicated to designing and building retail projects in 1950, Taubman’s business flourished beginning in 1960s and 70s.
In 1983, A. Alfred Taubman acquired Sotheby’s auction house. In his visionary style, he opened the auction house far beyond the dealers who were its historic mainstays, creating the stunning growth of the international art market. To attract those who had hitherto been considered outsiders, Taubman used his design sensitivity to create inviting spaces for customers and introduce innovations in the way works of art were exhibited. His foresightedness led to important sales such as The Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor (1987), The Andy Warhol Collection (1988), and the Estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1996).
Although Taubman has a glowing history, it is not without blemishes. In 2001, he was convicted for a price fixing scheme with Christie’s. The scheme was said to have helped swindled customers out of over more than 100 million dollars. For his role in the scheme, Taubman served nine and half months in prison. But his legacy in the art business looms larger than what many consider a minor stain.
Tad Smith, President & CEO of Sotheby’s describe Alfred Taubman as a pacesetter whose profound legacy and vision can be seen ‘everywhere in today’s global art market.’ Smith notes further that “Alfred Taubman created the Sotheby’s we know today, our iconic headquarters in New York, and the modern auction system for fine art collectors.”
Proceeds from the sale Sotheby’s will be used to settle estate tax obligations and fund the A. Alfred Taubman Foundation. “It was important to Mr. Taubman that the Taubman Foundation continue to be a source of support for the arts, education and medical research,” said Christopher Tennyson, a spokesperson for the Taubman estate. Tennyson concludes that “His family is committed to continuing Mr. Taubman’s philanthropic tradition.”
Sales of the Alfred Taubman art collection begins on November 4 with Masterworks and it will be followed by American Art on November 18 and Old Masters in January 27, 2016.
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