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Paul Jenkins – Rest in Peace

14 Jun

AbEx artist Paul Jenkins died Saturday in New York.  He was 89.

Jenkins was a friend and contemporary of Jackson Pollock before moving to Paris in 1953, where he became close with Jean Dubuffet, Mark Tobey, and other members of the French avant-garde.  His abstract paintings, full of thick and brightly colorful brushstrokes, were the subject of a major retrospective in 2007 at Lille’s Palais des Beaux Arts. 

Heritage has sold several of the artist’s works over the years – always bringing strong auction prices.  I love his works.  His application of color on canvas is thought-provoking and not overdone.  The color combinations are bright and cheerful. 

Here are a few of my favorites:








Warhols and Monkeys and Scribbles, oh my!

21 May

Tomorrow marks the Spring 2012 Modern and Contemporary Art auction.  Frank Hettig has put together a charming sale of works by the biggest names in modern and contemporary art.  On to the details…

170 lots
$1.8 – 2.5 million pre-sale estimate

Top lot:

ANDY WARHOL (American, 1928-1987)
Superman (from Myths), 1981
Color screenprint with diamond dust
38 x 38 inches (96.5 x 96.5 cm)
Ed. 113/200
Signed and numbered lower right
Estimate: $80,000 – $100,000

What’s not to love?  It has diamond dust to make it sparkle!

SOLD: $146,500 including buyer’s premium

Ones to watch:

ANDRÉ LANSKOY (French, 1902-1976)
Untitled, 1956/1957
Oil on canvas
77-1/4 x 38-1/4 inches (196.2 x 97.2 cm)
Signed lower left: Lanskoy
Estimate: $40,000 – $60,000

 A very nice abstract, for a very nice price. The phone bidders are lining up!

SOLD: $107,500 including buyer’s premium

DONALD ROLLER WILSON (American, b. 1938)
Gladys and Cookie, 1999
Oil on canvas
15-1/2 x 11-1/2 inches (39.4 x 29.2 cm)
Signed and dated along lower left canvas edge: Donald Roller Wilson. 1999/39
Estimate: $10,000 – $15,000

Is it the smoking cat or the monkey with the big bow that has everyone LOVING this piece?

SOLD: $21,250 including buyer’s premium

Big maybe:

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (American, 1960-1988)
In Color, 1986
Oil, acrylic, oilstick and mixed media on paper
24 x 26-1/2 inches (61.0 x 67.3 cm)
Estimate: $120,000 – $200,000

It’s typical of the artist’s work…..but does anyone care?

UPDATE:  bought in

More Details on the Sonnabend Estate Case…

6 Mar

Janet Novack at provides us with a little more insight into the Sonnabend Estate vs. the IRS case.

Legendary modern art dealer Ileana Sonnabend died in 2007 at the age of 92. Her heirs sold off works by modern masters Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly to pay estate taxes of $331 million to Uncle Sam and $140 million to New York State.  The most famous piece in her collection — “Canyon” by Robert Rauschenberg—  was not even considered for sale because the collage contains a stuffed bald eagle and selling it would be a criminal offense, punishable by a year in federal jail.  The estate had three appraisals done, and all three appraisers agreed independently that the fair market value of the artwork was $0, since it could not be sold legally on the open market.  The IRS says the work is worth $65 million and is demanding an additional $29 million in tax and an $11.7 million “gross valuation misstatement” penalty from the estate. 


We know Ralph Lerner’s position on the case.  He’s the one representing the Sonnabend Estate and filing suit in U.S. Tax Court against the IRS in protest of the back taxes and penalties owed on “Canyon”.  Lerner fumes: “The government is saying we want $35 million in tax but if you sell it to get the money we’ll put you in jail.”  It’s Catch-22.

California art law attorney, Joy Berus, is not surprised by the IRS’s position, as there is case law that contraband items in an estate (drugs, stolen art, stolen jewels, etc.) can be valued for estate tax purposes at their  black or “illicit market” value.  So what should you do?  Berus tells clients to “get rid of it before they die” to avoid this situation for your heirs.  Donating the works to a museum seems to be the best solution – but there’s no financial benefit for doing so, as the giver won’t qualify for an income tax deduction.  UGH, but at least the heirs won’t be stuck paying tax on a supposed black market value they can’t (legally) realize.  Says Berus regarding Rauschenberg’s “Canyon”: “Under current case law, it is includable in the estate and the IRS can value it based on the the black market value. But it doesn’t seem logical or fair.”

I’m excited to see what happens.  I think there is a real opportunity here to establish new case law that makes sense and doesn’t punish people for following the law.

Death and Taxes

28 Feb

Can the IRS invent a recluse Chinese billionaire?  Apparently they can. reported last week on the saga surrounding Robert Rauschenberg’s masterpiece, Canyon (See image).  It’s a short article, so I’ll re-post it here:

What’s the market value of a Robert Rauschenberg that can’t be sold without risking a year in the federal pen? According to the art mavens at the Internal Revenue Service, it’s $65 million, because a theoretical Chinese billionaire might pay that much on the black market. Really.

The backstory: After legendary modern art dealer Ileana Sonnabend died in 2007 at the age of 92, her heirs sold off some of her collection to pay a whopping estate tax bill:

$331 million to Uncle Sam and $140 million to New York State. They sadly parted with works by Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly, reportedly to such billionaire collectors as French luxury-goods titan François Pinault.

But they couldn’t sell Sonnabend’s most famous holding–Rauschenberg’s collage “Canyon”–because it includes a stuffed bald eagle, and two federal laws bar possessing or trafficking in the bird, dead or alive. (After U.S. Fish & Wildlife agents spotted the verboten eagle in 1981, Sonnabend got a special permit to retain “Canyon” and lend it to museums. It’s now hanging at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

The Sonnabend estate tax return pegged her total worth at $876 million, including $0 for “Canyon,” based on appraisals from Christie’s and others. The IRS billed the estate for more tax, valuing “Canyon” at $65 million.

Ralph E. Lerner, the top art lawyer representing the estate, has sued the IRS in Tax Court and is vowing to fight the issue “all the way.” The IRS has long taken the position that it can tax stolen or illegal items in an estate based on “illicit market” value. But Lerner says this is different–Sonnabend ­complied with the law, and the estate isn’t ready to go rogue to sell “Canyon.” Plus, there’s no black market for an iconic piece, anyway.

When he called the chairman of the IRS art panel to complain, Lerner reports, “He told me there could be a market. For example, a recluse billionaire in China might want to buy it and hide it.” Says Lerner: “It’s bizarre. It sounds like a James Bond movie.” The IRS declined comment.


Seriously?  The IRS is claiming a black market value?  Where did they find their comparables? 

Personally, I would have taken the position that the artwork has no value, too.  For fair market value, we appraise property in a hypothetical world assuming a willing buyer and a willing seller in a public market.  If federal regulations prevent the buying and selling of an item in a public market, then fair market value by its definition cannot be determined.  I also think taxpayers should not be penalized for following federal laws – even in a hypothetical world set forth for an estate tax appraisal. 

Appraisers are keeping a very close eye on this case to see how it is resolved.  This very well could be a landmark case setting precedence for future appraisal practice.

POLL: How much will Munch’s The Scream bring at auction?

27 Feb

The Financial Times Reports:
How much will Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (1895) fetch when it is auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York in May? A British bookie is offering odds of 3/1 that it will break the $125m barrier, way over its $80m-plus estimate – the first time, to my knowledge, that the price of an artwork has been subject to public betting. But then “The Scream” is one of the best-known art images in the world. This picture has rarely been seen in public, however, because of the four versions Munch painted it is the last in private hands. (The other three are in Norwegian museums.) “I think that bidding will be totally international, it’s a trophy that any collector would love to have,” says Munch specialist and dealer Jens Faurschou. As well as museums (if they can afford it), a surprising number of other collectors might step up: Qatar, currently the biggest buyer of modern and contemporary art, or perhaps a Russian oligarch, a US hedge-funder or indeed another Norwegian collector.

1 Feb

 The New York Times posted a short article on Monday about the new web marketplace for contemporary art – ArtspaceIt’s short – so I’ll just copy it below:, one of a wave of online art dealers that is starting to change the way contemporary art is bought and sold, said on Monday that it had raised $2.5 million from a group of investors. Additionally, it said, it had signed up several prominent museums and galleries – among them the New Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and the Mexico City gallery kurimanzutto – as partners that will offer works to buyers through the Web site.

Founded last March, Artspace sells prints, photographs and some sculpture and unique pieces by well-known and emerging artists, with prices ranging from $100 to more than $20,000. Proceeds from the sale of pieces offered by museums and other art nonprofits help to support those institutions. Artspace has joined several other online dealers that are beginning to draw art commerce to the Web, including Artnet, which conducts online auctions; the VIP Art Fair, a limited-time virtual fair that began last year and opens Feb. 3 for its second iteration; and Paddle8, which organizes curated online exhibitions with pieces for sale from major galleries.

Artspace already offers works from partners like the Guggenheim, the Brooklyn Museum, the David Zwirner gallery in New York and White Cube in London. Along with the financing from investors, the site also announced that it had hired Andrew Goldstein, the former executive editor of the art news site Artinfo, to serve as Artspace’s editor-in-chief, in an effort by the site to provide more news, educational material and information about artists to prospective buyers.

Signing up for Artspace is free!  I checked it out yesterday, and I really like it.  The website has a good mix of paintings, sculpture, and photographs – as well as a good mix of artworks at all price levels – as well as a good mix of up-and-coming artists to well-known established artists.  I like that prices are listed, which is incredibly helpful for me as an appraiser.  Finding published prices for artworks at the retail level can be very challenging for the appraiser, as it’s these prices that support our valuations for insurance appraisals. 

I also like the Collections area.  I see more and more art websites these days that have a “curated” section.  With so many items to choose from, it’s like sensory overload all the time.  I appreciate that someone has taken the time to point out certain items or themes or price points that may be of interest. 

Now on to my favorites:
Of course, the Vik Muniz photograph, American Flag, was already sold out (see image above).  Guess I’m not the only one who adores his work.  The blown glass mushroom lamps by Jason Middlebrook  from his Fun with Funghi series are certainly whimsical and fun.  And the Kehinde Wiley cast marble dust and resin busts are masterful renderings of contemporary African-American figures in the traditional Old Master manner.  All three of his works are sold out, too.  They are phenomenal.  I wish that I could see them in person, because I bet the photographs (as good as they are) don’t do them justice.

Spotlight on: Miguel Berrocal

12 Jan

I just got an advanced copy of Heritage’s Estate Auction catalogue.  The sale is scheduled for Tuesday, February 7th in Dallas and features a number of paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs,  furniture, and decorative arts.  There’s some interesting finds, and the group of puzzle sculptures by Spanish artist Miguel Berrocal really caught my eye.

Berrocal is best known in the puzzle community for his sculpture “multiples,” signed and numbered limited editions typically consisting of many ingeniously interlocking metal elements.  Indeed, the numerous mechanisms employed throughout Berrocal’s work are works of art in themselves.  Each such sculpture is accompanied by a book detailing disassembly and reassembly of the sculpture. 

My favorite piece in the sale is the Mini Cariatide (pictured above):
Marks: berrocal, 8517
5-3/8 inches high (13.5 cm)
The twenty-four piece puzzle on base, hardcover book included with step-by-step guide to assembling.
Estimate: $500 – $800.

If the artist is Spanish, why then does the catalogue entry state that’s it’s an Italian work?  Good question.  Although the artist was born in Spain, he settled in Italy and ran a foundry near Verona, Italy.  As such, the works he produced are “Italian” in origin.

Starting bids for his works in the sale range from $250 to $1000.  These fun and affordable artworks are sure to be a hit among collectors.

UPDATE:  The Mini Cariatide sold for $1,375.