Real Estate Titan Robert Olnick's Huge Art Collection Goes to Auction
Robert S. Olnick created a real estate empire that stretched across New York City, Westchester, and New Jersey, comprising dozens of buildings that spanned millions of square feet. Simultaneously, he and his wife Sylvia began to develop a robust collection of modern art, filling their New York and Palm beach homes with works by such 20th century masters as Alexander Calder, Willem De Kooning, and Cy Twombly. Robert died in 1986 at the age of 74, and for the next 30 years Sylvia continued to collect, gravitating increasingly to contemporary artists, including Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, and Vik Muniz.
Sylvia died earlier this year, and now her two daughters have placed the bulk of their parents' collection up for auction, where most of it will go on sale this November at Christie’s in New York.
“The majority of their collection will be sold across the evening and day sales,” said Laura Paulson, chairman of Christie’s Americas, who noted that there are also some prints and decorative artworks that will go on sale "at a later date." In total, the estate is auctioning 58 objects, which are expected to sell for "in excess of" $20 million.
Thirty-five artworks will be sold at Christie's November postwar and contemporary sales—six in the more prestigious contemporary art evening sale and 29 in the day sales. (Fifteen lots of Sylvia’s jewelry also sold to auction earlier this week, yielding a total of $380,625.)
The estate's leading lot is a geometric acrylic and graphic on canvas work by Agnes Martin, Untitled #6 from 1983, which is expected to sell for $5 million to $7 million. The second-highest estimated lot is a sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein, Sleeping Muse, from 1983, which carries an estimate of $3.5 million to $5.5 million. “I’m particularly fond of the Lichtenstein,” said Paulson. “It’s a patinated bronze sculpture riffing on Brancusi— it’s really an outline of a sculpture.”
Compared to some of the other high-flying lots set to sell in November, the Olnicks’ collection is relatively modest. Just three artworks carry high estimates of $3 million, and just six are more than $1 million. That relative affordability might be perfect for the current, cooling art market, said Paulson. “I think it’s exactly the kind of thing for the current art market,” she said. “The price points are accessible— they’re not sensational. But these are things that real collectors will always want.”
Other top lots include a work by Josef Albers, Homage to the Square, from 1973, estimated at $900,000 to $1.2 million; a vivid 1979 oil painting by Roy Lichtenstein, Despair, estimated at $1.5 million to $2.5 million, and an oil-and-silkscreen-on-canvas work from 1963 by Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (#3), which carries an estimate of $2.5 million to $3.5 million.
Several of the works were purchased directly from the once-famous Leo Castelli gallery, but in general, the Olnicks “didn’t rely on an advisor or a particular dealer,” Paulson said. “It was really about them making the rounds and buying what they liked.”
The Olnicks’ daughter, Nancy, has continued and expanded on her parents’ love of collecting. Bloomberg recently reported that she and her husband, Giorgio Spanu, are set to open a private gallery space in the Hudson Valley, where they plan to exhibit their 400-piece collection of Italian postwar art.
“The family made art part of its life,” said Paulson. “And that’s wonderful in itself.”