Isa Genzken Sculpture Withdrawn from Sotheby’s Sale After Scrutiny Over Its Seller

An Isa Genzken sculpture was withdrawn from a Sotheby’s auction after a strange series of events that involved an appearance on a German equivalent to Antiques Roadshow, scrutiny over the piece’s seller, and a request from the artist’s lawyer.

The Genzken sculpture, a 2011 piece called Weltempfänger (World Receiver), is a concrete block with two antennae sticking out of it. The piece had been given the coveted Lot 1 placement in an online sale held by Sotheby’s Cologne office. The sale had listed the work as coming from “an important private collection, North Rhine-Westphalia,” and placed the estimate at 50,000 euros.

“Sotheby’s has withdrawn the work in agreement with the consignor, and [provides] no further detail at this stage,” a representative for the house said in a statement, adding that the work was “not withdrawn on authenticity grounds.”

Weltempfänger was to be sold as her current survey at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin continues to receive acclaim. (That exhibition even features other “Weltempfänger” sculptures.) But the work never made it to auction as the German and Austrian press speculated over how it came to sale in the first place.

Earlier this month, the German art publication Monopol noted that the sculpture was being sold at Sotheby’s not long after it had appeared on Bares für Rares, a popular TV series aired by ZDF in which participants bring with them an object they believe to be rare and valuable, then are given the opportunity to sell it to experts. The episode with the Genzken sculpture was broadcast on September 6; the Sotheby’s sale began on September 14 and closed bidding on September 21.

An intensive care nurse named Jörg Friedrich had brought the work to Bares für Rares. He said he had seen to Genzken “when she was feeling bad” and that she gave him the sculpture to thank him for his care. Friedrich requested at least 30,000 euros for it. Susanne Steiger, a German jeweler who regularly appears on the series, ended up winning it for 16,000 euros.

It wasn’t clear who had sold the sculpture at Sotheby’s because the house did not name its owner, as is typical for most lots sold at auction. Sotheby’s provenance for the piece seemed to affirm Friedrich’s narrative, noting that it had passed from the artist’s studio to a private collection in Berlin as a gift. The work does, at least, appear to be an authentic Genzken, with Sotheby’s noting its corresponding number in a registry of works by her that is overseen by Galerie Buchholz, her representative.

The Austrian outlet Der Standard reported on Thursday that the Genzken sculpture was pulled after the artist’s lawyer got involved. The circumstances surrounding the withdrawal remain somewhat unclear, however.

A representative for Genzken did not respond to a request for comment.