Auction House Follies

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Two interesting bits of market related news in recent days. Over at Modern Art Notes, blogger Tyler Green has been calling attention to the report that the University of Iowa Museum of Art has prepared for the University’s board of regents concerning the possibility of selling the Museum’s most important possession, Jackson Pollock’s great Mural.

As Green points out, the most eye opening section of that document is this one:

In 2007, Sotheby’s, Inc. proposed to assist the University in selling Mural. A draft proposal
from Sotheby’s provided that Sotheby’s would offer Mural for sale for a period of 120 days at a purchase
price that would result in payment to the University of an amount not less than $150,000,000. A
Sotheby’s representative held a preliminary meeting with Howard Collinson (then director of UIMA) and
Nancy Willis (then chair of the Museum’s Advisory Committee) and then forwarded the draft proposal to
Ms. Willis, who delivered it to the Office of the General Counsel at the University.

The report goes on to say that the proposal was discussed by University administrators, who decided against a sale.

Then this:

Sotheby’s also suggested the possibility of selling other UIMA pieces, such as Max Beckmann’s Triptych, although the exploration of such possibilities is not documented further.

So Sotheby’s was reaching out to a campus museum to “assist” them in looting their own collection? Have they been doing this with any other schools? Just asking.

Keep in mind that, given the public blow up when news of the potential sale of Mural first broke over the summer, it no longer seems likely that a sale is in the offing. Meanwhile, there’s another reason why schools might be less interested right now in rushing their collections to the block. As reports this morning, Sotheby’s just concluded Hong Kong auction, the first big one since the credit meltdown started, was another sign that the air is going out of the market. Coming up next, the big — or maybe not so big? — fall sales in London and New York.

You can find background on the proposal to sell that Pollock sale here.

UPDATE: On his blog this morning Tyler Green reports that on Monday a Sotheby’s spokesperson got in touch with him to deny that Sotheby’s had initiated the contacts with the University museum. According to Sotheby’s, it was the former director of the museum, Howard Collinson, who had contacted them to inquire about the market value of the Pollock. Unless we hear otherwise from the University, I’ll take that to be an answer to my question above about “reaching out”.