New York auction could smash art world records with Picasso valued at $186 million

People look at Pablo Picasso's "Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O')" (Women of Algiers), estimated at US$140 million, ahead of a preview event to Christie's upcoming impressionist, modern and contemporary art sale in Manhattan on May 1, 2015. -- PHOTO:
People look at Pablo Picasso's "Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O')" (Women of Algiers), estimated at US$140 million, ahead of a preview event to Christie's upcoming impressionist, modern and contemporary art sale in Manhattan on May 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - Christie's auction house is hoping to set new world records with a Picasso valued at US$140 million (S$186 million) and a Giacometti worth US$130 million, as New York's spring auction season kicks off on Tuesday.

Pablo Picasso's colourful "The Women of Algiers (Version 0)", depicting a scene from a harem, will be up for grabs when Christie's puts it on the auction block on May 11.

The same goes for Alberto Giacometti's bronze statue "Man Pointing", of which there are only six casts in the world.

"Those two works can set a world record," said Mr Loic Gouzer, senior vice-president of Christie's. "You don't have another chance to get them."

The painting and statue are the flagship works at the evening sale entitled "Looking Forward to the Past," which will see 35 pieces of art created between 1902 and 2011 auctioned off.

The rising price of artwork at auctions is attributed to a growing number of wealthy, private investors around the world, experts say.

Giacometti's nearly 1.8m depiction of a wiry man holding up one hand and pointing with the other is the artist's "most celebrated sculpture", Mr Gouzer said.

The Swiss sculptor's masterpiece represents "when Giacometti became Giacometti, the ultimate work, the Holy Grail of sculpture".

Meanwhile, Picasso's nearly four-by-five-foot canvas is "a masterpiece at the level of 'Guernica' and 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon'," Mr Gouzer said.

"He painted several versions until he got this one," he added.

Picasso created the painting in 1955, inspired by 19th-century French painter Eugene Delacroix, but as a homage to Henri Matisse, who died in November 1954.

The work is one of the last major paintings by the Spanish master in private collection.

The world record for a painting sold at auction is US$142.4 million for Francis Bacon's "Three Studies of Lucian Freud", which was snapped up in New York in 2013.

And the record for priciest sculpture is already held by Giacometti, whose "Walking Man I" sold for US$104.3 million in London in 2010.

Also up for grabs to the highest bidder will be a painting from Claude Monet's "The House of Parliament" series, expected to bring in between US$35 million and US$45 million, and Mark Rothko's 1958 "No 36, Black Stripe", with an estimated value of US$30 million to US$50 million.

New York's eagerly anticipated spring auction season begins on Tuesday, when Sotheby's presents 69 impressionist and modernist works worth an estimated total value of more than US$270 million.

Among them are six Monets, all from private collections, with an estimated value of US$110 million, including a "Water Lilies" painting valued at between US$30 million and US$45 million.

Another star of the evening will be Vincent Van Gogh's 1888 "Les Alyscamps", created during his time in Arles, France and worth more than US$40 million.

At a Sotheby's auction of contemporary art on May 12, works worth about US$320 million will be sold in 65 lots, to include works by Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein and Gerhard Richter.

Mr Michael Macaulay, a contemporary art specialist for Sotheby's, called the auction "one of our biggest sales ever".