Computer Brain Palevsky’s Art Set For Auction at $78 Million

"Girl in Mirror" by Roy Lichtenstein. The work, estimated to sell for $3 million to $4 million in Nov., is from the estate of California computer pioneer Max Palevsky. Source: Christie's Images via Bloomberg

Computer pioneer Max Palevsky, who died in May at the age of 85, fed his art appetite for more than 40 years.

Some 250 works assembled by Palevsky, a co-founder of Scientific Data Systems, as well as a backer of Democratic politicians and Rolling Stone magazine, will be sold in a series of fall auctions at Christie’s in New York that are expected to raise up to $78 million.

“He didn’t go for just trophy art,” said Aaron Betsky, director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and author of the 2002 book, “Three California Houses: The Homes of Max Palevsky.”

Palevsky doted on his art-stocked residences in Beverly Hills, Palm Springs and Malibu.

He spent more than 10 years working with a designer to transform his Beverly Hills home into a showplace for his prized Arts and Crafts furniture, according to Betsky.

Palm Springs was built for socializing with his Rolling Stone pals. The Malibu house was adorned with custom built elements by Italian designer Ettore Sottsass.

Palevsky, who married and divorced five times, had a soft spot for shapely maidens. Fernand Leger’s 1921 picture of a robust brunette sipping tea is estimated to fetch up to $12 million. A circa 1st-2nd century Roman marble head of Aphrodite is estimated to sell for up to $250,000, while Roy Lichtenstein’s 1964 toothy blonde admiring her own reflection is tagged up to $4 million.

Poolside Tableau

Paintings by Leger and bronzes by Auguste Rodin, including “Balzac Etude Finale” (est. $500,000 to $700,000) produced in connection with a commission honoring the French author, will be sold November 3.

A pointy 1970 Alexander Calder mobile, “Tableau Noire,” which had sat poolside at Palevsky’s Palm Springs party pad, is estimated to sell for $3.5 million during the Nov. 10 contemporary evening sale. Works by Donald Judd, Frank Stella, and Richard Lindner will be offered as well.

Palevsky’s decorative arts will be sold at Christie’s on Dec. 15, including an enameled silver vase by Archibald Knox for Liberty & Co., estimated at up to $90,000.

Christie’s, which beat out Sotheby’s for the consignment, sought to peg estimates conservatively, according to Laura Paulson, International Director of the auctioneer’s post-war and contemporary department. “We aren’t in a moment where we can get away with anything just a little higher than where it should be,” said Paulson.

Born in Chicago, Palevsky launched his career as a $100-a-month UCLA logic teacher, according to a 1967 article in Time magazine. He quickly abandoned the academy for computing. He joined the Packard Bell Computer Corporation in 1957, and four years later founded computer maker Scientific Data Systems with a group of Packard Bell colleagues.

Owned Radio

“We saw a class of problems that should be solved by computers, but for which no computers were being built,” Palevsky told Time.

Eight years later, Xerox paid $1 billion for the company. Palevsky invested some of his cut in computer chip producer Intel and enjoyed life as a philanthropist, esthete and Luddite. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2005, Palevsky said he did not own a computer or cell phone. “I do own a radio.”

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