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Cohen’s ‘Liz,’ $10 Million Bear Star in $1.4 Billion Art Sales

'Paysage de banlieue'
"Paysage de banlieue" by Maurice de Vlaminck. It was the joint top lot in a May 2011 sale. The work owned by hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen fetched a record $22.5 million, as did Monets 1891 painting of poplars. Source: Christie's via Bloomberg

A 1905 Maurice de Vlaminck landscape owned by hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen could sell for as much as $25 million at Christie’s International this week, more than double the artist’s $10.8 million auction record.

As the big May art auctions start, “the market sentiment is very strong,” said New York dealer Christophe van de Weghe. “There are a lot of new buyers who want to get into the game. They like sure value.”

The two weeks of sales include Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art. Together, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips de Pury estimate they could raise as much as $1.4 billion.

Here are six highlights:

Cohen, the founder and chairman of SAC Capital Advisors LP, is also putting on the block Warhol’s portrait of Elizabeth Taylor, who died in March.

The legendary actress is depicted with a clownlike red mouth and aquamarine eye shadow that matches the background. Offered on May 12 at Phillips de Pury, “Liz #5” could fetch as much as $30 million. The work is guaranteed by a third party, which means that Cohen will get an undisclosed amount whether the work sells or flops.

Warhol accounts for the top lot of the season at Christie’s on May 11. His magnetic red and black self-portrait wearing a spiky wig has a presale estimate ranging from $30 million to $40 million.

Monumental Seven

The work is believed to be one of seven monumental self-portraits Warhol made that were shown six months before his death. Each is about 9 feet square. A purple self-portrait from the series fetched $32.6 million at Sotheby’s a year ago.

The septet changed the way people viewed the artist, according to Brett Gorvy, deputy chairman and international head of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s.

“By that time he’d had 15 years of pretty bad press,” Gorvy said. “Suddenly you realized that this man was the most important artist of the ‘80s generation.”

A 1934 Pablo Picasso painting of his mistress Marie-Therese Walter leads Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art sale on May 3 with an estimate of $25 million to $35 million.

“Femmes Lisant (Deux Personnages)” depicts Walter as a blue-faced, supple figure reading a book with another woman. Walter is a popular subject among contemporary collectors. Sotheby’s in London sold her 1932 portrait “La Lecture” for 25.2 million pounds ($40.6 million) in February. She is also the subject of “Picasso and Marie-Therese: L’amour Fou” exhibition at Gagosian gallery in Chelsea.

Wooden Tahitian

The same sale will include Paul Gauguin’s “Jeune Tahitienne,” a small wood sculpture with a presale estimate of $10 million to $15 million. Made during Gauguin’s first trip to Tahiti, it’s painted, adorned with coral necklaces and features different types of wood. A pair of fox faces is carved on the back of the young woman’s neck.

A previously undocumented 1961 Mark Rothko canvas could fetch as much as $22 million at Christie’s on May 11. “Untitled No. 17” depicts pink and red rectangles on a tangerine-yellow background. The work has been vetted by the Rothko scholar David Anfam.

Big Bear by Urs

Urs Fischer’s giant yellow teddy bear takes the prize of being the season’s biggest artwork. Its $10 million estimate is also the heftiest among works by young artists.

Painted canary yellow, “Untitled (Lamp/Bear)” weighs 35,000 pounds and is the size of a small house. Slumping by a huge desk lamp, the bronze creature will remain parked outside of the Seagram building through September.

It comes up for sale on May 11. Consigned by dealer and collector Alberto Mugrabi, the work comes in an edition of two with one artist’s proof. Two other versions belong to Cohen and Adam Lindemann.

“Buyers are looking for global icons,” said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art. “Something they can show on their iPhones and people will recognize it.”

(Katya Kazakina is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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