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Heirs Explore Sale of Works From Sonnabend Collection

Heirs of the late art dealer Ileana Sonnabend, who died last October at age 92, are considering options for a sale of works from her expansive collection in order to satisfy tax requirements.

NEW YORK—Heirs of the late art dealer Ileana Sonnabend, who died last October at age 92, are considering options for a sale of works from her expansive collection in order to satisfy tax requirements. “The estate is considering various options and expects to make a decision early next week [early April],” Ralph Lerner, a leading art law expert and the attorney for the Sonnabend estate told ARTnewsletter.

Sonnabend’s son Antonio Homem Sonnabend and her daughter Nina Sundell have held talks with major auction houses and other art experts about possible sales.

The Sonnabend estate, reportedly valued from $300/400 million, includes important works by such artists as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol—many of which were exhibited at her gallery.

Several works from the Sonnabend collection are currently on loan to Italy’s Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto. Included are Rauschenberg’s 1963 Kite; Pier Paolo Calzolari’s 1969 installation Scala 2000 lunghi anni lontano da casa; two Roy Lichtenstein works—his enamel-on-plate Hot Dog, 1964, and enamel-on-metal Explosion, 1965; and Warhol’s 1962 Four Marilyns, 1962, and Four Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1965, both in acrylic on canvas. The loan also includes pieces by Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg and Tom Wesselmann, according to the museum’s website.

In the early 1930s, Sonnabend married dealer Leo Castelli. Some 40 years later, she launched galleries in New York and Paris with her second husband, Michael Sonnabend. She was known for introducing American Pop and minimalist art to European audiences and for exhibiting a wide range of art, including Italian Arte Povera, conceptual art and neo-expressionist art. In 1991 the Sonnabend Gallery exhibited Jeff Koons’ much-talked about “Made in Heaven” series featuring sexually explicit artworks depicting the artist and his then-wife Ilona Staller.

Tax experts predict that federal and New York state taxes on the estate could climb as high as 50 percent. Sonnabend’s will reportedly indicates that her executors can “sell any works of art” to pay administrative expenses, including taxes.

As ARTnewsletter went to press, it was not clear whether any of the works in Sonnabend’s collection would be consigned in time for the upcoming New York contemporary sales in May.

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