Sotheby's exhibits Taubman collection prior to sales

Susan Whitall
The Detroit News

If you're in New York Tuesday, you can get a last peek at some of A. Alfred Taubman's $500 million art collection, clustered as it was in his four homes.

Frank Stella’s painting “Delaware Crossing” is juxtaposed with a Henry Moore sculpture, just like the pieces were placed in A. Alfred Taubman’s Bloomfield Hills home, in Sotheby’s exhibit of the billionaire’s collection.

Sotheby's, which starts auctioning off Taubman's collection Nov. 4, launched a dedicated exhibit of the artwork owned by the late Michigan-born billionaire developer Saturday, and closes it down at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Taubman, whose company developed the Great Lakes Crossing mall in Auburn Hills and Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi, among many others, collected art of every period, genre and medium, from the old masters to contemporary art. He died in April at 91.

In advance of the first part of the sale, "Masterworks," Nov. 4, Sotheby's organized some 300 pieces into groupings reflecting his homes in Bloomfield Hills, Palm Beach, Florida, Southampton and New York. For those who knew him, it was like seeing the art in his living room.

They clustered them in vignettes, to reflect the way the different houses were," Taubman family spokesman Christopher Tennyson said Monday.

Tennyson was speaking from one of the Sotheby's galleries, on the 10th floor. "One particular Frank Stella painting — I'm up there now — is juxtaposed with a Henry Moore sculpture in the same way they were in the Bloomfield Hills home."

Picasso’s “Woman Seated on a Chair” could bring up to $35 million. The Taubman collection auction begins Nov. 4.

The Frank Stella, "Delaware Crossing," is estimated to be worth $8 million to $12 million, and its sale could set a record for the artist.

On Friday, Sotheby's opens a more limited exhibition, displaying the Taubman-owned works that are in the Nov. 4 and 5 sale, organized by date of sale and genre, not by where Taubman displayed them.

There was a cocktail party launching the exhibition Sunday that the three adult Taubman children, Robert S. Taubman, William S. Taubman and Gayle Taubman Kalisman, attended, and Tennyson confirmed that they will be at the first phase of the sale, Nov. 4 in New York.

Taubman purchased Sotheby's in 1983. He also was a founder of the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art and a board member of the Whitney Museum of American Art. He had many artworks on loan to the Detroit Institute of Arts, and there was some disappointment locally when none of the works was given to the museum.

Some of the more valuable pieces in the Nov. 4 sale include Willem de Kooning's richly colored "Untitled XXI," estimated to sell for $25 million to $35 million; Amedeo Modigliani's "Paulette Jourdain," with a pre-sale estimate of more than $25 million; and Picasso's "Woman Seated on a Chair," a portrait of his lover and muse Dora Maar painted in 1938, which could bring up to $35 million.

The Modern and Contemporary Art sale, which includes works by Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky and Egon Schiele, is set for auction Nov. 5. American Art, including a large landscape by Martin Johnson Heade, "The Great Florida Sunset," goes on the block Nov. 18, and Old Masters, featuring Raphael's "Portrait of Valerio Belli, Facing Left" and Thomas Gainsborough's "The Blue Page," among other works, is set for Jan. 27.

Two floors of the exterior are wrapped in a vinyl material featuring many of the pieces and artists in the collection. The names of Willem de Kooning, Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Alberto Giacometti and others are splashed across the surface in blue lettering reminiscent of the Viennese Succession-style Taubman cherished.

"What I would like people to come and see and walk away with is that there is no categorical segmentation of great art," said Alex Rotter, Sotheby's co-head of contemporary art.

Old Master paintings can be seen together with American art from the late 1900s. Elsewhere, a piece of antiquity appears next to a Francis Bacon work from 1961.

17th-century Baroque religious paintings "The Crowning with Thorns," by Valentin de Boulogne, left, and "Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery," by Pietro da Cortona, right.

If the Taubman auctions fetch an estimated $500 million for the entire 500-piece collection, it will be the most valuable private collection sold at auction, rivaling the $477 million sale of designer Yves Saint Laurent's estate at Christie's in Paris in 2009.

"There is something in this sale that almost any serious collector would want," said Sarah Lichtman, assistant professor of design history at Parsons School of Design. "It is like a veritable stroll through an art history textbook."

Taubman is credited with transforming Sotheby's into a global powerhouse, but his reputation was tarnished in 2001 when he was convicted in a price-fixing scandal that embroiled the auction house. He spent nine months in prison.

Sotheby's said proceeds from the sale would be used to settle the Taubman estate's tax obligations and fund the Taubman Foundation, which contributes to the arts, education and medical research.

Associated Press contributed.