Killing the estate tax could help art sales, Sotheby’s CEO says


“Mao” by Andy Warhol

Smith also said wealthy art collectors are feeling “optimistic” ahead of the big November sales in New York. Sotheby’s just racked up $404 million in sales at its Hong Kong auctions, up 42 percent over last year. And its sales at Frieze Week in London totaled $114 million, up 10 percent from the prior year.

“We’re seeing a lot of inventory coming to market this year and collectors are generally feeling pretty good about it,” he said.

The stock market’s double-digit gain this year certainly helps, he said, adding that “anything, including the stock market, that enhances confidence is a positive thing.”

The big test will be the November sales, however. Sotheby’s most valuable lot is a massive “Mao” by Andy Warhol, expected to fetch $30 million to $40 million. It also has two important Monets — a summer garden scene that could fetch $20 million to $30 million and a scene of ice on the surface of the water that could fetch $18 million to $25 million.

Another big headline maker will be a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat that was owned by Yoko Ono, which could fetch $9 million to $12 million.

The biggest headline maker of the November sales, however, is a lot at Christie’s — Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” which could fetch over $100 million.

Smith said that Christie’s decision to pair da Vinci’s portrait of Jesus with Warhol’s massive “Last Supper” work was “brilliant marketing.”

“I wish we had done it, we didn’t. One of our competitors did and they did a really great job,” he said.

Despite the work’s controversial history, and being at the center of a massive art battle between a Russian collector and his dealer, Smith said the piece will do well on the auction block.

“It’s the last Leonardo in private hands, there are only 20, and it’s a masterpiece of unimaginable beauty. What can you say?”

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