Katya Kazakina gets Ben Heller to open up about the just-announced Rothko “No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue)” being sold by Anne Marion at Sotheby’s this Fall:
In 1978, the painting was purchased by Ben Heller, a major collector and private dealer of Abstract Expressionism. Sandra Canning, who acted as an agent for the transaction, said Heller paid $325,000.
“I would call it a very good Rothko. I would not call it a masterpiece,” Heller said in a telephone interview. “It’s an important, rare work.” He has owned more than a dozen Rothkos, and gave the Museum of Modern Art its Barnett Newman masterpiece, “Vir Heroicus Sublimis,” in 1969.
Heller subsequently sold the painting for less than $500,000, he said.
When asked what he thought about Sotheby’s (BID) estimate, he said, “I bought my first Rothko for $1,350 in the early 1950s. So the price increase has been astronomical.”