Preview: Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Sotheby’s is banking on a stellar group of some 25 works from the storied collection of Steven and Ann Ames, a New York couple famed for their connoisseurship and museum patronage, to drive interest and sales in its Contemporary Art Evening Sale on Thursday. The Ames trove is impressive and especially rich in postwar German art.

In that department, two major Gerhard Richter abstractions, usually identified by their German appellation “Abstraktes Bild” but listed in the catalogue with the simplified initials “A.B.” and a single term following, to indicate a special subgroup, are each priced at $20 million to
$30 million. Both of the large-scale, squeegee- applied works date from the 1980s. The first piece, A.B. Still, 1986, measures 71⁄2 by 61⁄2 feet and debuted at a dual Marian Goodman and Sperone Westwater exhibition in 1987. A.B. St. James, bottom, from 1988, measuring 61⁄2 by 81⁄2 feet, was first exhibited by Anthony d’Offay that year in the exhibition “The London Paintings.” Both mark a somewhat earlier stage in the artist’s madly prolific oeuvre. A.B. Still last sold at auction at Sotheby’s New York in April 1991 for $264,000, when it was bought in the salesroom by d’Offay, according to this reporter’s notes at the time. Works of this stature from this decade are especially rare to market, even for Richter.

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Other Ames collection highlights include Willem de Kooning’s bravura abstraction Untitled, from 1976–77, pegged at $8 million to $12 million, and Philip Guston’s late and ferocious Expressionist figurative composition, Untitled (Smoking), 1979, depicting the artist in close-up profile and the smoldering tip of a cigarette set against a shocking pink background, expected to fetch $1.5 million to $2 million. On the British front, David Hockney’s late and massive landscape of his beloved Yorkshire countryside, Woldgate Woods, 24, 25 & 26, from 2006, is tagged at a record-breaking $9 million to $12 million. It is the first of six canvases from the series that debuted in 2012 at the artist’s Royal Academy blockbuster to appear at auction.

“The market is very smart,” says Grégoire Billault, head of Sotheby’s New York’s contemporary art department, confidently referring to the Ames material. “It recognizes when something is great.”

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Beyond the Ames pieces, the house is offering Andy Warhol’s late and boldly aggressive Self- Portrait (Fright Wig), 1986, estimated at $20 million to $30 million. Scaled at 61⁄2 by 6 feet and executed in synthetic polymer paint silkscreened on canvas, it represents the second-largest size in the “Fright Wig” series and debuted at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in 1986. It last sold at auction at Sotheby’s New York in November 1997 for $387,500. An example of the largest (9 by 9 feet) self-portrait from the series fetched $32.5 million at Sotheby’s New York in May 2010, consigned by fashion magnate Tom Ford.

Lower down the value pyramid is Rudolf Stingel’s 2010 Untitled, top, one of his signature and much-desired “Carpet” paintings, this one glowing in golden hues and patterned after an Oriental rug design. It is estimated at $2 million to $3 million.

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