In one of the most widely anticipated auctions in the art market’s history, the second portion of the collection of divorcing New York real estate developers Harry and Linda Macklowe fetched a collective $246.1 million at Sotheby’s on Monday evening in New York.
The night brought the vaunted Macklowe collection total to $922.2 million, making it the most valuable single-owner sale ever to be sold at auction and surpassing the total achieved for the Rockefeller collection sale at Christie’s in 2018, which made $832 million against an estimate of $500 million.
The guaranteed group of 30 works sold this week, 19 of which came to the sale with irrevocable bids, soared past its estimated haul of $167.6 million by more than $75 million. It was the second tranche of the 65 total works from the Macklowes’ holdings to be auctioned—part of a court-ordered sale as part the billionaire couple’s closely watched divorce proceedings—to be offered at the house’s New York headquarters. The first sale staged last November generated $676.1 million, with records notched for esteemed artists not known as major market darlings like Agnes Martin, Robert Irwin, and Michael Heizer.
Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker led the hour-and-a-half-long sale, which took place in the house’s York Avenue salesroom. Barker welcomed a nearly full room of audience members, among them heavyweight dealers and advisers like David Nahmad, Mary Hoeveler, and Wendy Fischer. Pressure on Monday night was less palpable in comparison to last year’s portion of the sale, where bidders competed for keys postwar works that charged the room with energy.
“There is great value in the consistency of the works in the collection,” said New York art advisor Erica Samuels, who attended this evening’s auction in person. “This sale felt very matter of fact. It was all business.”
Among the works that fetched the highest price on Monday was an untitled deep red canvas by Mark Rothko from 1960 that sold for $48 million. Coming to the sale with an irrevocable bid, it hammered at $41.5 million, going to a bidder on the phone with Gregoire Billaut, Sotheby’s New York chairman of contemporary art department; his client triumphed over a Hong Kong bidder on the phone with Sotheby’s Asia chairman Patti Wong after several minutes. It was still far from surpassing Rothko’s current auction record of $86.8 million, set in 2012 when Orange, Red, Yellow (1961) sold at Christie’s.
A representative for Sotheby’s Japan office won the bid for Andy Warhol’s Vanitas: Skulls and Self Portraits (1962), a self-portrait overlaid in camouflage patterning, at a hammer price of $16 million, just above its $15 million low estimate. Elsewhere in the sale, bidding from Asia was present, with Hong Kong buyers prevailing for works by Cy Twombly, Sigmar Polke, and Mark Grotjahn that sold for prices between $5 million and $15 million.
Gerhard Richter’s monumental 1975 canvas Seestück (Seascape), a blurry view of a grey ocean horizon, sold for $30.2 million with premium, hammering at $26 million, or just above its low estimate. It went to a bidder on the phone with Sotheby’s New York contemporary specialist David Galperin.
Another big-ticket item that came to the sale with an irrevocable bid was Cy Twombly’s Synopsis of a Battle (1968), one of the artist’s signature chalkboard-like black canvases with white scrawls; it sold for $15.3 million. Just two bidders—one on the phone with Sam Valette, a London-based Impressionist & modern art specialist, and the other with New York–based contemporary specialist Jackie Watcher—competed for the work. It hammered with Valette’s client at $13.5 million, above its low estimate of $12 million.
An untitled 1961 abstract canvas, painted in canary yellow, orange, and light blue tones, by Willem de Kooning, sold for $17.7 million, going for more than double the $7 million low estimate. The winning bidder was on the phone with Sotheby’s New York head of private sales Courtney Kremers.
A bronze sculpture by Alberto Giacometti titled Diego sur stèle II (1968), a pedestal-like sculpture of an elongated standing figure modeled after the artist’s brother was among the postwar works that saw mild bidding. It sold for $8.9 million, against an estimate of $7 million, likely going to the guarantor.
One of the most suspenseful bidding spars of the night was for a work by Agnes Martin. The long-undervalued artist’s white-striped canvas Every Morning Happiness (2001) made 4 times its low estimate of $2.5 million, finding a buyer on the phone with New York specialist Bame Fierro March for $9.9 million (with buyer’s premium). He triumphed over a bidder in the room for it. That sum, however, came well below Martin’s auction record of $17.7 million, set in November when her monochrome Untitled #44 (1974) sold in the first part of the Macklowe sales. The underbidder went on to win a second work by Martin that was offered, which sold for a hammer price of $5.3 million.
Another silkscreen painting by Warhol, a red-and-black canvas titled Hammer and Sickle from 1976 sold for $6.4 million, against an estimate of $4 million. Sigmar Polke’s Plastik-Wannnen (Plastic Tubs), featuring blue, yellow, and pink plastic wares painted with a clinical precision sold to a client of Sotheby’s Switzerland chairman Caroline Lange for $6.5 million with fees, hammering well above its $3.5 million low estimate. A bronze sculpture by Giacometti, depicting the artist’s brother Diego, sold for $8.6 million, or squarely within its pre-sale estimate of $7 million–$10 million.
Samuels, the New York art adviser, said of the works sold, which represent five decades of collecting primarily spearheaded by Linda Macklowe, show a “collector’s imprimatur,” from which the next generation of art patrons has something to learn.
She added, “These are the artists that represent the styles of art that attracted her: Pop, Abstract Expressionism, and Minimalism—in essence, the art of her times.”