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$16.8M Sale of Huber Trove Raises Some Art World Eyebrows

Christie’s Feb. 26 auction of 74 works of contemporary art from the collection of Swiss dealer and collector Pierre Huber realized $16.8 million, surpassing the auctioneer’s $11/15 million presale estimate. The sale also earned considerable criticism from influential members of the art community, as reported recently in the newsletter The Baer Faxt. Several dealers and

NEW YORK—Christie’s Feb. 26 auction of 74 works of contemporary art from the collection of Swiss dealer and collector Pierre Huber realized $16.8 million, surpassing the auctioneer’s $11/15 million presale estimate. The sale also earned considerable criticism from influential members of the art community, as reported recently in the newsletter The Baer Faxt. Several dealers and artists contended that Huber had misled them about his eventual plans for the collection.

Prices for the top lots included: $1.9 million (estimate: $1.8/2.2 million) for ten paintings by On Kawara from the Japanese artist’s “Today” series; $1.5 million (estimate: $1/1.5 million) for Paul McCarthy’s Bear and Rabbit on a Rock, 1992; $1.1 million (estimate: $800,000/1.2 million) for Mike Kelley’s 1999 Rest Room Containing Multiple Stimuli Known to Elicit Curiosity and Manipulatory Responses; and $913,000 (estimate: $250,000/350,000) for Francis Picabia’s 1938 Woman with a Green Background.

The sale generated controversy among some of the artists included in the sale as well as among several major art dealers who, in some cases, sold Huber the works, since he reportedly had said for years that he was building a collection that would eventually end up in a museum.

On that basis, according to a report in the New York Sun, Huber sometimes paid discounted prices for works he couldn’t have acquired otherwise. Kelley told the Sun that Huber “flat-out lied to me,” adding that the collector had received the Rest Room installation at a price just above the production cost, based on the promise that it would eventually go to an institution.

Huber did not respond to requests from ARTnewsletter seeking comment on the matter. Auction records were set for the Kawara and McCarthy works, as well as for other artists—$656,000 for Jim Shaw’s 2003 The Donner Party, $552,000 for German artist Albert Oehlen’s 2001 Born to be Late, $480,000 for Indian artist Subodh Gupta’s 2006 Giant Leap of Faith, and $432,000 for an untitled 2002 work by Rudolf Stingel. All but seven lots found buyers.

An influential figure in the art world in Geneva, where he lives and works, Huber, 65, worked first as a ski instructor and restaurateur, asking various artists to exhibit their work in his restaurants, “because at the time he didn’t have enough money to buy works to decorate them,” Jennifer Vorbach, international director of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s, who brought in the consignment, told ARTnewsletter.

As part of an agreement with the collector-dealer, Christie’s staged an exhibition of selected works from Huber’s collection at its galleries as well as on the 20th floor of its Sixth Avenue outpost, a large, open space near its Rockefeller Center headquarters. The exhibition drew 2,000 visitors, Christie’s reports.

Among other works sold in the Feb. 26th auction were pieces by Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Louise Lawler, Sol LeWitt, Cindy Sherman, Franz West and Christopher Wool.

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