Sotheby’s held its preview of the Taubman collection this weekend and the New York Times took notice. Taubman’s large, eclectic and deeply personal collection may not have been legendary as Sotheby’s has it. Taubman was a socially active billionaire but few people were ever in his homes in Bloomington Hills, MI, Palm Beach, Manhattan or Southhampton. So this weekend’s display was a revelation for all but the dealers who sold Taubman art in the years before he bought Sotheby’s and the specialists who knew which works he acquired at auction.
If the collection was not well known, Taubman certainly was a legendary figure in the worlds of real estate and retail. The surprise of Sotheby’s marketing is that it chose to de-emphasize the man and his achievements which might have helped add to the provenance that the family covets. This is from the New York Times:
“If I could dream of anything out of the auction, it is that one day they’ll talk about Taubman as a provenance — the way we talk about Thannhauser or Havemeyer or Gould,” said Mr. Taubman’s son William, 56, in a recent interview at the auction house. “That would be a great tribute to my father.”
As a pioneer of luxury retailing in the United States, Taubman is a pivotal figure who worked by instinct and passion to lower the barrier between the buyer and the merchandise. Taubman was obsessive about the details of the customer experience and presentation. Some of that passion can be seen in Sotheby’s current headquarters which Taubman developed.
Without the emphasis on Taubman’s achievements, the times focused on the $500m guarantee from Sotheby’s. Although the family had a fiduciary responsibility to get the best deal for the estate, no one would have been well-served by Christie’s having won the collection. Had that happened, the story of the internal market competition would have overshadowed the art. Nonetheless, Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith wasn’t complaining:
Mr. Smith said the sale was worth fighting for and he was comfortable with having had to compete for it. “We thought it was very important to our shareholders to have it,” he said.
As it is, Taubman’s art collection may be far more interesting down in the details than it is at the top lots. Yes, there are Modiglianis, Picassos, de Koonings and Rothkos with estimates in the $25m range. But the real opportunity for Sotheby’s to protect its guarantee and the market is the greater number of works that have the potential to far out-perform their estimates due to the lack of supply on the art market and the number of active buyers looking for good works. Here’s the Times again:
Some collectors and dealers say the collection has been overhyped, that Mr. Taubman often bought pieces at the low estimate that would not otherwise have sold — partly as a favor to Sotheby’s specialists who asked for his help.
And others say Mr. Taubman chose well over his more than 60 years of amassing pieces by artists ranging from Dalí to Degas. “The quality of the collection is outstanding,” said James Corcoran, the longtime Los Angeles dealer who sold several pieces to Mr. Taubman. “It’s going to make the mark for this year — to decide how strong the art market is.”
Inside Sotheby’s $500 Million Bet on Restoring Image of Ex-Chairman (The New York Times)