Sometimes the museums that would be interested in major Beuys works simply do not have the cash on hand to buy them. By 2015, Schlegel consigned his second large collection of multiples to Mitchell-Innes & Nash, the Chelsea gallery founded by auction veterans Lucy Mitchell-Innes and David Nash. In nine years, the pricetag had jumped from $3 million to $10 million, the gallery said.
But no institution had the funds to pony up.
“He had given us the collection to sell as a whole—we didn’t sell any individual multiples at all,” said Lucy Dew, a director at the Mitchell-Innes & Nash, who helped organize the show. “It’s difficult to sell a full collection that isn’t 100 percent complete. We were looking for a museum, or maybe someone in Asia who is trying to build up a collection of Beuys.”
Institutional collectors are still finding the work hard to buy. Securing a set of multiples now, with a museum’s budget, would be difficult, Heyler said.
“We were very fortunate to acquire a nearly full set of the multiples all at once, which is very rare, 12 years ago,” Heyler said. “At this point, it is unlikely the market is going to cool for such an established figure.”
Hirschdenkmäler, the centerpiece of the Ropac show in London, is, according to the gallery’s press materials, “the most important environment by Beuys that isn’t owned by a major museum.” And while Ropac again pressed that it was not for sale in any official way, he said it could be acquired if the right institution was interested. He wouldn’t disclose the price, but said it was much higher than anything else in the show, and in the range of the $20 million Erich Marx paid for Das Kapital Raum (1970–77).
“I’m not in a rush with this,” Ropac said. “It definitely has to go to a major museum, so there’s no doubt about it.”
Ropac said he has already sold work in the London show to Asian collectors, and he thinks that’s where a major work like Hirschdenkmäler will end up. There’s a growing interest in Beuys’s work in Asia, and the institutions there don’t yet have the kind of Beuys holdings one sees in the U.S. and Europe—but they do have enough money to foot the bill.
“In China, in Korea, they’ve been circling Beuys for a while,” he said. “Nothing major has been sold in Asia, but there’s definitely the appetite for it. And this is partly our job for the future, that his work will go to the more important institutions in this part of the world. There’s a lot of possibilities.”