Blue-chip treasures from one of Manhattan’s most acrimonious billionaire divorces on Monday night helped Sotheby’s achieve what it called a record total sale for a private collection of art at auction, $922 million, with fees.
Sotheby’s sold its second cache of trophy-name modern and contemporary works owned by the real estate magnate Harry Macklowe and his former wife Linda Macklowe, an honorary trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for $246.1 million. The first installment of the sale, in November, raised $676.1 million from 35 lots, topped by works by Mark Rothko ($82.5 million) and Alberto Giacometti ($78.4 million).
As is the nature of sequels, the second Macklowe sale, comprising 30 lots, wasn’t quite in that league, but works by Rothko at $48 million, Gerhard Richter at $30.2 million and Andy Warhol at $18.7 million pushed the final total, which Sotheby’s said, eclipsed the sale of the Peggy and David Rockefeller Collection in 2018 for $835.1 million, before inflation, at Christie’s.
The Monday sale, estimated to raise at least $168 million, kick-started the second of two weeks of marquee auctions of modern and contemporary art.
There were a few noteworthy lots that exceeded expectations, such as a 1961 orange and yellow de Kooning that sold for $17.8 million over a high estimate of $10 million and Sigmar Polke’s “The Copyist,” which sold for $6 million over the high estimate of $4 million.
“Either art is one of the few assets that seem to have a good immunological protection against recession, or inflation is much stronger than we think,” said Loic Gouzer, a former prominent Christie’s specialist. “The art market feels very close to the spare parts market — good works are hard to find and very expensive.”
For more than 50 years, the Macklowes had acquired prime examples of works by canonical white male artists such as Warhol, Richter, Rothko and Cy Twombly, traditionally viewed as blue-chip investments. More recently, however, much of the energy and money in the market has shifted toward younger, emerging names, particularly female artists and artists of color.
“We’ve been thinking about where we are with white male artists,” said Suzanne Gyorgy, the global head of Citi Private Bank Art Advisory and Finance. “Then the Macklowe sale came along and did extraordinarily well.”
Gyorgy said that the Macklowe sale showed there was still plenty of demand for works by museum-validated names, provided they were of A-plus quality. “There are collectors out there who want the best of the best and are still upgrading their collections,” said Gyorgy. “Even if there are dips in certain markets, these artists are here to stay.”
The sale of the Macklowes’ prized artworks was the result of a New York court order in 2018. Exasperated by the feuding couple’s inability to agree how to divide their holdings, Justice Laura E. Drager of State Supreme Court decided that the collection — then valued at more than $700 million — should be sold in a public auction.
While the Macklowes had originally shared a love of collecting — filling their homes in the Plaza and the Hamptons with paintings and sculptures — art became Ms. Macklowe’s main passion. She had hoped to keep the major pieces of art, but because most of their assets were tied up in the art collection, that proved impossible.
“Linda Macklowe’s incomparable eye was on display again tonight,” said the dealer Marc Glimcher. “The spectacular prices were a confirmation of that. We can only hope she will decide to use these funds to bring her keen sense, impeccable taste and deep knowledge back to the artists and to collecting.”
Christie’s 2018 charity sale of the Rockefeller collection — a marathon dispersal of art and antiques compiled in a different era of collecting taste — comprised 1,580 lots offered in six live sales and one online-only auction. The Macklowe collection consisted of just 65 high-value pieces (all of which sold).
The sale started out strong, with a Roy Lichtenstein mirror painting and an Agnes Martin work of hazy stripes each selling for about three times their high estimates ($6 million and about $10 million respectively).
Last week, Christie’s raised $1.4 million from its various sales, including $195 million for Warhol’s 1964 silk-screen “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn.” This week, Sotheby’s is offering its wares, as is Phillips, which on Wednesday night will feature a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting estimated to sell for $70 million.
But with stocks suffering six successive weeks of decline, prompted by the economic fallout of the war in Ukraine and ongoing concerns over rising inflation and interest rates, the very top end of the international art market could be stress-tested.
“I never thought I’d see a sale of the Macklowe collection,” Harry Macklowe said in a post-sale news conference, reflecting on all the auctions he had attended himself as a collector. “I’m thrilled by it. Not by the economics, but by the quality being recognized by collectors. Everybody endorsing the choices we made over the last 65 years, that was the greatest payback,” he added.