Sotheby's $699m bet on ex-chairman

NEW YORK • A. Alfred Taubman dragged Sotheby's into a price-fixing scandal during his tenure as chairman, when he was sent to prison in 2002.

Now, after his death in April at 91, the auction house is pulling out all the stops to promote the sale, beginning on Nov 4, of his extensive art collection from old masters like Raphael to 20th-century masterworks by Modigliani, Matisse, Picasso, Schiele and de Kooning.

"This is a historic sale," said Mr Simon Shaw, Sotheby's co-head of Impressionist and modern art worldwide. "There has never been a collection of this significance."

Sotheby's marketing efforts include a custom-printed banner around its Upper East Side headquarters featuring images of artworks in the collection as part of the pre-sale exhibition, which opened last Saturday.

The glossy 400-page catalogue, with essays by cosmetics tycoon Leonard A. Lauder and retail executive Leslie Wexner, and a biographical online video featuring Henry Kissinger are a reminder of how much is riding on the auction.

Sotheby's has fought hard to win the sale away from its archrival Christie's and fully guaranteed the sale for US$500 million (S$699 million) to the Taubman family.

The stakes are also high for the Taubman family, who not only want to make as much as possible (proceeds will go towards estate taxes and a private foundation), but also affirm its patriarch's legacy as a respected collector.

"If I could dream of anything out of the auction, it is that one day, they'll talk about Taubman as a provenance - the way we talk about Thannhauser or Havemeyer or Gould," said Taubman's son William, 56, in a recent interview at the auction house. "That would be a great tribute to my father."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2015, with the headline 'Sotheby's $699m bet on ex-chairman'. Print Edition | Subscribe