(Bloomberg) -- Just a months after putting their Westchester sculpture park on the market, top art collectors Sherry and Joel Mallin have announced that they’re selling nearly all of their thousand-plus-piece art collection. “We’re basically selling everything,” says Joel in an interview. “It eliminates, to some extent, worrying: ‘Should we sell this one or that one?’”

The art—by volume, one of the largest collections to go to auction—will be sold at Sotheby’s with an overall estimate exceeding $50 million. The pieces will be spread across multiple auctions in London and New York this year; further sales, including a dedicated auction of monumental sculptures, will take place in 2023 and 2024.

The couple has been a major force in the contemporary art scene for decades, slowly accumulating formidable 20th century and 21st century artworks for display at their estate, Buckhorn Sculpture Park, in Pound Ridge, NY.

In addition to the property’s 70-odd outdoor sculptures, the Mallins exhibited their extensive collection in a 9,200-square-foot museum-quality space they called an “art barn.” The barn was rehung every two years “from top to bottom,” says Sherry. “So we’ve had the experience of things being taken down.”

How to Sell 1,000 Artworks

The decision to sell their collection, Sherry says, is one of practicality. They have donated many works to museums over the years, but don’t like the idea of donating the entire collection to a museum, where “it will go into a basement and no one will see the artists’ work,” Sherry says.

They considered turning their sculpture park into a foundation, but “there were many factors against that,” she says. “One is that you have to endow it extremely heavily for the town to even consider it—but in our case, most of our wealth is in our art.” So, she continues, “in order to endow it, we’d have to sell the art, and then we’d have nothing to endow anymore. So that didn’t seem like a good idea.”

They decided to simply sell it, using former auction house veteran Francis Outred as an adviser. “He approached both Christie’s and Sotheby’s, and each made remarkable presentations,” says Sherry. “Each was interesting and very commendable, and I guess we decided on the one who approached it with the most comprehensive business point of view, in terms of taking care of the whole collection from beginning to end over a long period of time.”

It wasn’t that they were concerned about their most expensive lots. “Every auction house knows how to handle the best pieces,” Sherry says. “That’s not hard; the best pieces handle themselves. It’s what do you do with the rest of the collection, which is really nice but not outstanding.”

Top Lots

So what do they think of Sotheby’s valuations?

“All of it was too little,” Sherry says, half-joking. “Every one of my children is perfect, and every one of my art pieces is fantastic.” 

Her theory will be tested very soon. The first tranche of works will go on sale during Sotheby’s contemporary art sales in London this month. Thomas Schütte’s Bronzefrau Nr.11 (Bronze Woman No. 11), from 2002, carries an estimate of £2 million to £3 million ($2.3 million to $3.4 million) and will hit the auction block on Oct. 14.

The same day, the couple’s totemic sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, Listening One from 1981, will go to sale with an estimate of £1.3 million to £1.8 million. Other top lots include an Infinity Net painting by Yayoi Kusama from 2010, which carries an estimate of £1.8 million to £2.5 million; Sean Scully’s paintingWall of Light Red, from 1998, estimated from £800,000 to £1.1 million; and a collection of work by the group known as YBAs (Young British Artists), including pieces by Damien Hirst and Ron Mueck. 

Next month in the marquee contemporary evening auctions in New York, they’ll sell a work by Robert Gober from 1993-94, which carries an estimate of $6 million to $8 million, and a piece by Robert Irwin from 1965–67, part of his suite of works known as “The Discs,” which carries an estimate of $3 million to $4 million.

Wait and See

Despite these heady prices, Joel has a word of warning for anyone buying art purely for financial gain. “Don’t view art as an investment,” he says. “It’s probably the worst investment you could make.”

Sherry interjects that she would “like to edit that statement.” It’s not the worst investment, she says; it’s just “not a sound investment or a sure investment, ever. Nobody knows, 50 years from now, which artists today are going to bring the most money.”

The art that’s going to the London auctions has already been taken off the walls, but the couple remains relatively sanguine. They plan to attend the New York sales in November. “I think it will be bittersweet,” says Sherry. 

Joel, for his part, is withholding judgment. “I don’t think I’m going to know how I feel about it until after the sale,” he says.

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