The sale by Christie’s of the Paul Allen collection underlines the strength of the art market

Christie’s Thursday night announcement that it is offering masterpieces from the collection of late Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen in an estimated $1 billion charity sale is the latest signal that the art market is not slowing down.

The details of the more than 150 works of art that Christie’s will sell in November are still being cataloged, but Marc Porter, president of Christie’s Americas, confirmed on Friday that “we offer a prodigious array of masterpieces from the collection.”

All proceeds from the auction will go to nonprofit organizations, with details to come on which groups will receive funding. Allen, who died aged 65 in 2018 and had a net worth of $20.8 billion, according to Forbes, signed the Giving Pledge in 2010, pledging to donate most of his wealth to philanthropic causes. He gave US$2.65 billion to nonprofits during his lifetime.

At the time he signed the pledge, Allen detailed his commitment to tackling a range of environmental issues, such as climate change and saving “Earth’s most iconic species from extinction,” in addition to advancing science to fight disease and supporting cultural institutions, arts organizations and non-profit social service organizations. He also founded the Allen Institute, which researches biosciences, the Allen Institute for AI, and the Museum of Pop Culture, all in Seattle, Washington, where he lived.

Christie’s sale is titled “Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection” to encapsulate the complexity of Allen’s pursuits, inventions, writing and collection, Porter says. “Visionary” is a description that has already been applied to him, but which Christie’s felt was appropriate given Allen’s early realization – when he was a boy attending the Seattle World’s Fair – that he could accomplish anything, even in the realm of space.

Jasper Johns, Small false start1960. Encaustic, acrylic and paper collage on fiberboard.

Courtesy of Paul G. Allen Estate

“This idea of ​​imagining the future became something we started thinking about when we started thinking about who it is and who it represents,” Porter says.

The fact that important works from the Microsoft co-founder’s collection will be sold at a time of economic uncertainty, high inflation and geopolitical turmoil reveals confidence in buyers willing to lift their paddles for the best work. This confidence is based on knowing the resilience of the market, with ever-higher prices being achieved even throughout the pandemic.

Some of this strength is “attributable to the growing wealth of our wealthiest customers, who are the most active market participants, especially for masterpieces and large works of art,” Porter says. “Sales rates” – indicating the percentage of works sold at a given auction – “were as high during and during [the pandemic] as they always have been in history,” he says.

In the first half of this year, sales at the three major auction houses – Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips – jumped 25% to around $7 billion from the same period a year earlier, according to ArtTactic, a London art analysis company.

One of the reasons buyers turn to art in times of inflation is that it is seen as a stable store of value. Although Porter says he can’t say there’s a direct correlation, it’s a sentiment he gleans from conversations with collectors.

“Certainly in a volatile geopolitical context, artwork is also a safe haven asset,” Porter adds. “It’s possible [that] the stock market decline points in one direction, but these mitigating factors point in another. This is one of the reasons we have seen such consistently high prices.

Price spikes will likely be a feature of Allen’s auction. Two works confirmed for sale so far are by Jasper Johns Small false start1960, with an estimate on request exceeding 50 million dollars, and Paul Cézanne
Sainte-Victoire mountain1888-1890, with an on-demand estimate in excess of US$100 million.

Other works up for auction remain unknown, though some observers point to paintings that appeared in “Seeing Nature,” a 2016 exhibition of 39 works from the Allen Collection showing “the evolution of European and American landscape art.” over 500 years. Works in the exhibition – none of which have been confirmed as part of Christie’s sale – included Jan Brueghel the Younger The five senses: sight, circa 1625; by Edouard Manet
View in Venice—The Grand Canal, 1874; by Gustav Klimt
birch forest, 1903; and Milton Avery
Dancing trees1960.

An essay from the “Seeing Nature” catalog provides insight into Allen’s penchant for collecting. He indicates that “the landscape is a favorite theme”, as the exhibition reveals, and that Allen’s purchase in 1992 of Claude Monet’s painting
Water Lily Pond1919, “flagged his ambition” from which “he never looked back”.

Morgan Long, chief executive of the Fine Art Group, a London-based art consultancy and fundraiser, hopes a study by Georges Seurat that featured in the ‘Seeing Nature’ exhibition will be among “some of the rare things and specials”. ” that Allen owned which will be sold in November.

For Long, the auction is an exciting sign of what’s to come this fall. “We are entering an unknown season,” she says. “The only way to ensure that we have a strong 2022 is with these great collections. Christie’s is doing what needs to be done by going out and getting quality material.

And according to her, the sale itself should go well. “At the end of the day, the appetite for masterpieces is still very strong,” says Long.

Similarly, Drew Watson, head of art services at Bank of America Private Bank, says there are “many positive leading indicators” that the market remains strong, including auction houses offering guarantees on the works, as well as third parties, and that the mid-season sales in New York and Europe went well.

Additionally, waiting lists for primary market art are quite long, which “pushes buyers into the secondary market where they might have better access,” says Watson.

For auction houses, the opportunity to manage a sale like this – which is expected to top the US$835.1 million raised from the Peggy and David Rockefeller Collection in 2018 – is a major win. Porter would not comment on the competition for the submission, which comes as the auction house is in the process of marketing the Ann and Gordon Getty collection of decorative and fine arts, estimated at $180 million. dollars. Proceeds from this sale will benefit California-based arts and science charities.

The charity component of the sale could prove an added bonus as “philanthropy is at such an evolving time” that the collection could generate wider interest in the market and in the press. And, he says, “buyers are thrilled to know that in addition to buying something great, it will also have a salutary effect on the nation or the world or wherever philanthropy operates.”

Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, is the executor and trustee of his estate and has sold her assets in recent years.

In addition to his art collection, Allen’s sizable estate also included a 414-foot yacht, a research and leisure vessel dubbed the Octopus, which sold last August. It was recently listed for US$278 million.

A number of high-end properties owned by Allen were also sold. They included two apartments on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which sold for $101 million in July; an eight-property package on Mercer Island in Washington State for US$67.1 million, also last month; and a Los Angeles compound that sold last summer for $55.5 million.

A spokesperson for Vulcan, which was the registered seller of the properties, said the company could not “share details of Paul’s envisioned philanthropic future” but that “indeed he has dedicated the majority of his wealth to philanthropy, including as the first signatory of the pledge.Details on the distribution of Allen’s philanthropy “will be shared at the appropriate time,” the spokesperson said.

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