Art Market

A Robert Rauschenberg could sell for $50 million in May—300,000 times what the seller paid for it.

Benjamin Sutton
Mar 1, 2019 4:30PM, via Bloomberg

Robert Rauschenberg, Buffalo II, 1964. Est. $50 million. Courtesy Christie’s.

A prized Robert Rauschenberg canvas, one of his collage-like silkscreen paintings, will go up for auction at Christie’s New York salesroom on May 15th with a $50 million estimate. If reached, that figure would nearly triple the artist’s current auction record of $18.6 million, set at Christie’s in 2015. The painting is one of several Rauschenberg made incorporating an image of John F. Kennedy shortly after the U.S. President’s assassination.

The sale represents a major windfall for the heirs of the painting’s previous owners, Robert and Beatrice “Buddy” Mayer, who bought Buffalo II (1964) from dealer Leo Castelli for $16,900 in 1964 (about $140,000 in today’s dollars)—a potential return of about 300,000%, as Bloomberg’s Katya Kazakina notes.

“Everyone has been waiting for this painting,’’ Sara Friedlander, the head of Christie’s post-war and contemporary art department in New York and international director, told Bloomberg. “It’s the very best of the silkscreen paintings that’s left in private hands.”

The Rauschenberg is among a trove of Pop art, Impressionist, Modern, and Latin American artworks, as well as ceramics from China, which Christie’s will sell from the Mayers’ estate, which is expected to bring over $125 million in all. Other banner works from their collection headed to auction include a 1962 Roy Lichtenstein, Kiss III (1962), which Christie’s tagged with an estimate of $30 million, and Andy Warhol’s Liz (1963), a portrait of Elizabeth Taylor expected to sell in the region of $20 million.

Christie’s announcement of the Mayer estate consignment followed Sotheby’s 2018 earnings call on Thursday, in which CFO Mike Goss emphasized the role major estates are playing in driving value for the two auction houses. However, the competition between Sotheby’s and Christie’s for these estates leads to relatively lower margins for the auction houses, Goss said.

Further Reading: Why Can’t the Art World Embrace Robert Rauschenberg’s Queer Community?

Benjamin Sutton
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