NEW YORK—Many highlights of Christie’s record $133.7 million evening auction of postwar and contemporary art on May 11 came from the trove of New York collectors Barbara and Donald Jonas, who had donated the works to the Jewish Communal Fund. The auction, Christie’s said, featured 13 “masterworks of abstract expressionist art,” by such artists as Joseph Cornell, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg and Isamu Noguchi. The works, which accounted for about a third of the entire sale, realized $44.3 million in total, solidly above the estimate of $40 million.
A record was set for Kline when Crow Dancer, 1958, fetched $6.4 million (estimate: $4/6 million). De Kooning’s Sail Cloth, 1949, rose to $13.1 million after competition between dealer Robert Mnuchin and a phone bidder who had the final word.
When the Jonases began buying art nearly 30 years ago, they quickly decided to focus their collecting efforts on a particular period. Barbara Jonas, a former actress and psychotherapist, told ARTnewsletter that the pair had bought mainly from dealers, who let them try out the works on their walls before deciding to buy: “We lived with these pictures and loved them. We never did think of them as an investment.” However, Barbara says that her husband, Donald, a former retailer who is now involved in realty and philanthropy, “felt we had been extremely fortunate and it was time to give back. We’re truly just custodians of these works.”
The Jewish Communal Fund, the recipient of proceeds from the sale, is a publicly supported foundation that provides donors with philanthropic counsel. Jonas says the proceeds will be used to support global issues, including health, education, medical research and children’s causes.
Jonas says of the treasured works, “I just hope that the people who end up with them will love them as much as we have.” Still, she admits, actually letting go of them was no easy task. “I really did cry when they were packed up in the bubble wrap,” she remembers.
Will the couple continue to collect? Says Barbara Jonas: “We’d like to start looking at works by young artists, including photography and other genres, and will put our toes in the water. Right now it’s time for us to take a deep breath.”