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Brooklyn Museum reaps US$19.9m from Sotheby's art sale

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Art traditionally comes to auction as a result of the three D's: death, debt and divorce. This season, an additional D played a major role: deaccessioning, or sales, by museums.

[NEW YORK] Art traditionally comes to auction as a result of the three D's: death, debt and divorce. This season, an additional D played a major role: deaccessioning, or sales, by museums.

An assortment of works from the Brooklyn Museum generated US$19.9 million at Sotheby's Wednesday sale, led by a mid-century dining table and a Claude Monet landscape. A monumental abstract painting by Helen Frankenthaler from the Palm Springs Art Museum surpassed estimates, selling for US$4.7 million.

But the biggest fireworks erupted over the lots that weren't offered, including a pair of paintings from the Baltimore Museum of Art that were pulled just two hours before the auction after days of mounting pressure on the museum.

The pandemic has upended the decades-old auction format and schedule. The big traditional November sales in New York have been replaced by smaller events in October and December, with live auctions giving way to live-streaming spectacles. Sotheby's said it drew almost one million viewers to its Impressionist, modern and contemporary art auction on Wednesday, which was broadcast from New York, London and Hong Kong and brought in a total of US$283.9 million.

Ron Perelman's nine-foot-tall (2.7 metres) Grande femme I by Alberto Giacometti, offered privately with a minimum bid of US$90 million, found a buyer, though Sotheby's declined to comment on the acquirer's identity or the price. Mr Perelman's Femme de Venise IV, also by Giacometti, which was supposed to go to auction with an estimate of US$14 million to US$18 million, was pulled last minute following a private sale, Sotheby's said.

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Mr Perelman's third Giacometti, Femme Leoni, was the most expensive object of the evening, selling for US$25.9 million, within the expected range. (Prices include Sotheby's fees; estimates don't.) The billionaire has sold at least US$480 million worth of art since July after saying he was reworking his holdings in response to the pandemic while seeking to simplify his life.

All seven offerings from the Brooklyn Museum found buyers. A 1949 dining room table by Carlo Mollino, with a rib-cage like support visible through the glass top, sold for US$6.2 million, doubling the high estimate and setting an auction record for the Italian designer. The museum received it as a gift from the Italian government in 1954, according to Sotheby's.

The institution, which has been running a deficit for decades, is seeking to raise US$45 million to create a fund to care for its collection. It's more than halfway to the goal, having earlier sold US$6.8 million of art at Christie's, including its sole Lucas Cranach painting.

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