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With the New York evening sales starting next week, ARTnews can reveal several major collectors parting with valuable works by big-name American artists, some of whom have recently received renewed critical and institutional attention.
First up is Philip Guston’s 1952 canvas The Bell, which hits the block November 13 at the Sotheby’s modern evening auction, with an estimate of $6 million–$8 million. An abstraction the artist produced earlier in his career after studying in New York, The Bell was last shown publicly earlier this year at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in “Philip Guston Now,” the largest survey ever dedicated to the painter. The exhibition was postponed three years ago in order to further contextualize depictions of Ku Klux Klan members in Guston’s work, drawing backlash from artists, curators, scholars, and critics. The work appeared in that exhibition when it traveled to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, but not its current iteration at the Tate Modern, on view until February 2024.
The consignor who loaned the piece for the exhibition was Top 200 Collector Aaron I. Fleischman, a high-powered attorney-turned-investor based in Miami; he has owned the work for more than 30 years.
“I’ve owned it for a long time. I devoured it,” Fleischman told ARTnews recently, adding that he couldn’t donate the work to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the Art Institute of Chicago, where he serves as a trustee, because both institutions already own major Gustons.
Fleischman’s low profile belies his influence as a museum donor of works by eminent American artists. In 2021 the Met thanked him for giving it partial ownership of two sculptures by Robert Gober, including Short Haired Cheese (1992–93), a wax sculpture of hair sprouting from Swiss cheese. Fleischman was fixated on the piece and he grew intent on getting it into the Met’s galleries as soon as possible. He bought it from Matthew Marks Gallery in 2020, and former Met curator Ian Alteveer helped approve the donation.
Fleischman feels the decision to sell the Guston, meanwhile, was another natural step in the collecting cycle as he eyes new acquisitions. “It’s healthy to let things go sometimes,” he said.
Another work hitting the block at Christie’s next month is Robert Colescott’s Eat dem Taters, a 1975 painting that depicts a group of Black figures seated around a table and which alludes to Vincent Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters. The work (estimate $2 million–$3 million) nods to historically racist imagery that Colescott repeated throughout his practice; it is set for auction November 7. Relatives of American art historian Robert Rosenblum , who died in 2006, have owned the painting since 1975. Entrenched in the New York art world for decades, the Rosenblum family loaned the painting in 2022 to the New Museum for a traveling exhibition that charted Colescott’s 60-year career and brought him renewed attention. In 1997, Colescott famously became the first Black artist to represent the United States in the Venice Biennale.
Christie’s 20th century evening sale on November 9 will feature realist painter Andrew Wyeth’s 1967 Spring Fed, carrying an estimate of $4 million–$6 million. Depicting a somber view out the window of a barn, it is consigned by descendants of Bill Weiss, a Wyoming-based businessman whose family wealth derives primarily from pharmaceuticals. The Weiss family is also known for helping fund a five-museum complex in Wyoming dedicated to Western and American art. Since Weiss’s death in January 2022, the family has been auctioning off paintings by Wyeth. Wyeth’s market jumped last year when his 1980 Day Dream sold for $23.3 million on a $2 million–$3 million estimate during the sale of tech mogul Paul Allen’s collection.
Lastly, Dallas hedge-funder Roy H. Trice is selling an untitled 2011 work by New Orleans native Jacqueline Humphries, who produced large-scale abstractions in the 1990s, when academics saw the style as out of vogue. The work is to be sold during a Christie’s 21st century evening sale. Trice, who has funded acquisitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has held the work for more than a decade; it carries a $400,000–$600,000 estimate.
With two weeks of sales that many regard as an art market barometer, there’s sure to be more to come.
(Sarah Douglas contributed reporting.)