(Bloomberg) -- The world’s major auction houses have too much of a good thing: $1.8 billion of trophy art that will go on the block in New York next week.
There’s such a glut of investment-grade art for sale that they’re saving some of the prized works for future auctions.
“People are really perceiving the market peak,” said Brooke Lampley, vice chairman of Sotheby’s fine-arts division. “And they don’t know how long it’s going to last.”
Collections of two late businessmen -- Royal Cruise Line founder Barney Ebsworth at Christie’s and music-industry entrepreneur David Josefowitz at Sotheby’s -- include masterpieces by Edward Hopper and Wassily Kandinsky. Billionaire Joe Lewis is aiming to set an auction record for a living artist with the sale of a David Hockney painting. Other major artists, including Helen Frankenthaler, Oskar Kokoschka and American modernist Marsden Hartley, are also poised for new highs.
Auction houses are embracing a more inclusive view of art history as collectors seek “greatness and value beyond the same old” constellation of Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon and Henri Matisse, Lampley said.
The season’s top two lots, both at Christie’s, are a case in point: Hopper’s 1929 “Chop Suey" is estimated at $70 million to $100 million and Hockney’s “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) could fetch more than $80 million.
“These were not blue chip names as recently as two years ago,” Lampley said.
Sotheby’s is highlighting a group of paintings created around World War I, including a 1912 apocalyptic scene by Ludwig Meidner, estimated at $12 million to $18 million. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s 1915 canvas “Das Soldatenbad” depicts a group of naked men taking a group shower as an officer watches. The work, painted after the artist’s release from military service, is estimated at $15 million to $20 million.
It had been in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim and recently was restituted to the heirs of Jewish art dealer Alfred Flectheim along with a stunning portrait of a man, “Joseph de Montesquiou-Fezensac" by Kokoschka, estimated at $15 million to $20 million. The Austrian artist’s current auction record is $4.1 million.
A 1913 Hartley canvas, created while he lived in Berlin, is a geometric puzzle in primary colors that’s estimated at $30 million, almost five times the artist’s current auction record.
Meanwhile, there’s no dearth of Picassos.
Christie’s will offer more than a dozen works by the Spanish master on Sunday, kicking off the week of auctions. The priciest of the group is “La Lampe," estimated at $25 million to $35 million, and is being sold by Wall Street veteran John Thain, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The 1931 painting depicts the artist’s young lover, Marie-Therese Walter, whose golden hair doubles as a lamp light. The Wall Street Journal identified Thain as the seller earlier this week.
Postwar highlights for the week include Willem de Kooning’s 1954-55 “Woman as Landscape," estimated at $60 million to $80 million, and Jackson Pollock’s 1950 “Composition with Red Strokes,” which may fetch $50 million to $70 million. Both will be offered Tuesday during a special evening auction of the Ebsworth collection.
Another Pollock, being sold by Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro at Phillips, may fetch $18 million. Nelson Rockefeller purchased it for $306 in 1950, the year it was made.
Frankenthaler’s “Red Square,”’ a 10 1/2-foot-wide canvas, is estimated at $3 million to $5 million at Christie’s. The auction record for the postwar female artist is $3 million, set in May. The 1959 work is being sold by Bennington College, her alma mater, to help fund scholarships for needy students. The school received the work as a gift from Frankenthaler.
Sotheby’s is offering a massive abstract painting by Gerhard Richter. The 8 1/2-by-13-foot “Abstraktes Bild” is estimated at $30 million and has been in the same collection for the past 20 years, according to the catalog.
The sensual “Calla Lilies on Red” is part of a group being sold by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to benefit the acquisitions fund. It’s estimated at $8 million to $12 million.
Abigail Asher, an art adviser in New York, said the upcoming mega-week of auctions will have something for collectors of all stripes, whether they covet Impressionist, modern, postwar or contemporary art.
“There’s a breadth of material and quality that’s really exciting,” she said.
--With assistance from Reade Pickert.
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