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New York's in-person art auctions return with world's most expensive collection

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After more than a year, in-person auctions return to New York this week with the sale of the Macklowe collection -- the world's most expensive to hit the market.

At auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's, the message is the same: the art market is thriving.

With sales starting November 15 estimated to bring in more than $1 billion in a week, "this is our largest sale season... since 2015," a record year, said Brooke Lampley at Sotheby's.

"Throughout the pandemic, there was great demand from our buyers, who weren't experiencing the same level of supply as they were accustomed to," she told AFP.

Experts say the pandemic has not negatively impacted the funds nor appetite of potential buyers, who are increasingly in Asia and younger than their predecessors.

For the first half of 2021, when it saw sales increase by 13 percent compared to 2019, Christie's noted that 30 percent of its buyers were new clients, and 31 percent of those were millennials.

"A lot of people are looking at their walls, thinking about the art they want to add to their collection, because they're spending so much more time in their homes," said Emily Kaplan at Christie's, which resumes in-person auctions on Tuesday.

- $600 million collection -

In September, Sotheby's won the rights to sell the Macklowe collection, the subject of a legal dispute following the high-profile divorce of New York real estate developer Harry Macklowe and his ex-wife Linda in 2018.

The auction house is billing the pieces, worth $600 million, as the largest collection of modern and contemporary art ever put on the market.

Of the 65 pieces, 35 will go under the hammer on November 15 with an estimated value of $400 million. The rest will go on sale in 2022.

Highlights include Alberto Giacometti's "The Nose", a suspended bronze the sculptor began working on in 1947, and Mark Rothko's minimalist painting "No. 7". Both are estimated to be worth $70-90 million.

The collection includes Andy Warhol's "Nine Marilyns" (worth $40-60 million) and "Sixteen Jackies" (worth $15-20 million) -- as well as several pieces by living artists, such as Jeff Koons, Rudolf Stingel, Wade Guyton and Tauba Auerbach.

"There's incredible demand for contemporary art by artists practicing today," said Lampley.

At Sotheby's, the evening of November 18 will be dedicated to the sale of works from the last 20 years, including two Banksy works estimated to be worth several million dollars each.

- Digital element -

Christie's auction season begins Tuesday with a 21st-century sale, focusing on solid bets such as Banksy works, but also a monumental painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, "The Guilt of Gold Teeth", which he completed in 1982 during one of his stays in Modena, Italy during his meteoric rise.

The painting, which depicts a voodoo figure surrounded by graffiti and numbers, is estimated at $40-80 million.

Digital artist Beeple's sculpture "Human One" depicts a helmet-wearing astronaut walking through a changing environment. The piece can be modified remotely by the artist at any time, even once installed in the buyer's house.

On Thursday, Christie's will auction a collection of Impressionist pieces assembled by Texas businessman Ed Cox, a wealthy Republican Party donor who died in 2020.

The collection includes one piece each from masters such as Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne and Gustave Caillebotte, as well as three paintings from Vincent Van Gogh.

A sales record for Frida Kahlo could be broken at Sotheby's, which will auction off her self-portrait "Diego y yo" -- valued at $30 million.

The auction house will also sell a rare original copy of the US Constitution, signed on September 17, 1787 in Philadelphia (worth $15-20 million).

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