Art Market

Christie’s will sell 11 works worth up to $130 million from S.I. Newhouse’s collection.

Nate Freeman
Mar 27, 2019 4:28PM, via Christie’s

Jeff Koons, Rabbit, 1986, stainless steel. This work is number two from an edition of three plus one artist's proof. Est. $50 million–$70 million. Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd. 2019.

S.I. Newhouse, the publishing heir who led the Condé Nast stable of magazines for decades until his death in 2017, amassed one of the world’s foremost art collections, meticulously selecting works that, in some cases, would become some of the most valuable in the world. He was once the owner of Jackson Pollock’s famous drip painting No. 5, 1948 (1948), which he sold to David Geffen—and Geffen then sold to David Martinez for about $140 million in 2006.

Since Newhouse’s death, his estate has been overseen by the art advisor Tobias Meyer. Last year, it sent one of his works to auction: Francis Bacon’s Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing (1969), which exceeded its high estimate to sell for $21.7 million at Christie’s post-war and contemporary sale in November 2018.

Paul Cézanne, Bouilloire et fruits, 1888–90, oil on canvas. Est. in the region of $40 Million. Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd. 2019.

Now, 11 more works from Newhouse’s collection are coming to the Christie’s May sales, and the trove could bring as much $130 million, according to the auction house. The group includes the Jeff Koons sculpture Rabbit (1986), which sparked a watershed moment for the artist when it was unveiled at Sonnabend Gallery, marking his move toward shiny metallic sculptures, and defining the go-go era of New York in the 1980s—Christie’s press release calls it “a point of no return” for Koons. Estimated at $50 million to $70 million, it could break the auction record for the artist, set when Balloon Dog (Orange) (1994–2000) sold for $58.4 million at Christie’s in 2013 (then a record for a living artist).

In a statement, Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman for post-war and contemporary art, compared the work to no less of an icon of culture than Michelangelo’s David, saying:

For me, Rabbit is the “anti-David,” which signaled the death of traditional sculpture—disrupting the medium in the same way that Jackson Pollock’s Number 31 permanently redefined the notion of painting. From my first day in the auction world—this is the work that has represented the pinnacle of both contemporary art and art collecting to me, and it is an immense honor to be presenting it to the auction market in May.

Andy Warhol, Little Electric Chair, 1964, acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen. Est. $6 million–$8 million. Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd. 2019.

Other works in the group include Paul Cézanne’s Bouilloire et fruits (1888–90), which is estimated to sell in the region of $40 million, Vincent van Gogh’s Arbres dans le jardin de l'asile (1889), expected to fetch around $25 million, and Andy Warhol’s Little Electric Chair (1964–65), which is estimated to sell for between $6 million and $8 million.

In a statement, Meyer said:

Si Newhouse was one of the most important collectors of the 20th century and well into the 21st. He personified the rare combination of a great intuitive eye and equally great intellectual curiosity. He read voraciously about the artists he admired, and nothing could stop him once he decided to acquire a work of art that measured up to his exacting standards.

Vincent van Gogh, Arbres dans le jardin de l'asile, 1889, oil on canvas. Est. in the region of $25 million. Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd. 2019.

Nate Freeman