Macklowe art collection brings in record $922mn haul at auction

An auction of artworks amassed by property mogul Harry Macklowe and his ex-wife Linda over five decades has set a record for a single collection, with the $246mn sale at Sotheby’s New York bringing the total haul to $922mn. 

Monday’s well-attended auction of 30 lots, in which every work sold but few exceeded the upper range of Sotheby’s estimates, pointed to a contemporary art market in which valuations remain robust for blue-chip works.

The Macklowe auction was seen as a test of the art market’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, but this year’s spring sales are being watched as an indicator of whether war in Ukraine, Covid-related lockdowns in China and warnings of a possible US recession have shaken the confidence of the world’s wealthiest collectors.

The night’s proceeds were higher than Sotheby’s $167mn-$236mn estimate but did not outstrip expectations by as large a margin as November’s $676mn sale of 35 works from the Macklowes’ collection, which was the largest auction in the house’s history.

The total proceeds of the Macklowes’ works beat the $835mn auction record for a private collection set in 2018 when more than 1,500 works owned by Peggy and David Rockefeller were sold. “This is art market history,” said Charles Stewart, Sotheby’s chief executive.

A Mark Rothko painting from 1960 that had never been sold at auction fetched the highest price of the night after an extended bidding battle reached $48mn including the bidder’s premium, compared with a $35mn-$50mn estimate.

A Gerhard Richter seascape estimated at $25mn-$35mn sold for $30.2mn, on a strong night for German artists in which two works by Sigmar Polke far exceeded estimates, with each selling for more than $6mn.

“The state of the market seems to be extremely bullish at the moment for the right objects,” said auctioneer Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s European chair. Bidders came from more than 30 countries, the company added, with Asian, US and European buyers all well represented.

One of Andy Warhol’s last works, a 1986 camouflaged image, sold to an Asian collector for $18.7mn, setting a record for a self-portrait by the artist.

Warhol’s “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” silkscreen sold for $195mn at Christie’s this month, becoming the highest-priced 20th-century art work to be sold at auction.

An untitled abstract painting by Willem de Kooning from 1961 drew some of the strongest interest, with six bidders pushing the price beyond its $7mn-$10mn estimate to sell for $17.8mn.

As in November’s sale, an Agnes Martin work far exceeded expectations, with “Early Morning Happiness” earning the night’s biggest round of applause when it sold for $9.9mn, compared with a $2.5mn-$3.5mn estimate.

Harry Macklowe, who once taunted Linda Macklowe after their 2016 divorce by installing 42-foot-tall portraits of himself and his new wife on one of his Park Avenue buildings, said the sale represented him “closing the door on one chapter of my life and continuing on”.

The auction result was “very satisfying,” he added. “Everybody endorsed the choices that we’ve made over 65 years. And that to me, is the greatest payback and gratification that I could ever have.”

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