It’s hard to figure out what the New York Times is trying to say about the Rockefeller estate that Christie’s will be selling in early 2018. In the middle of a column about Old Master sales, the paper’s regular weekend art columnist introduces Michele Beiny who deals in porcelains and has sold works to the David Rockefeller in the past.
Rockefeller liked 18th Century porcelain and his personal collection will be sold with the estate. For some reason, this causes the Times to bring up Rockefeller’s taste in decor and compare it unfavorably to Yves St. Laurent, the fashion designer whose estate made a record in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis.
Then, Ms Beiny comes back into the narrative:
Though she acknowledged that Mr. Rockefeller owned some exceptional Impressionist and modern paintings, Ms. Beiny said “the collection isn’t like Yves Saint Laurent’s. It wasn’t put together with a decorator’s eye.”
Does she mean a fashion designer’s eye? One supposes that the Times thinks it is being risqué and daringly contrarian here. But there are few in the industry who expect the Rockefeller estate to be filled with amazing treasures. For one, there was the need in his lifetime for Rockefeller to donate works to institutions he supported.
For another, auctions like Rockefeller’s, Jacqueline Onnasis’s, Andy Warhol’s and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s are rarely driven by the overall quality of their personal effects. Even in the YSL/Pierre Bergé sale there were a number of items that sold far above estimates on a fame factor.
Will this happen with Rockefeller? Maybe. There are some good reasons to suggest some of the cultural mystique of David Rockefeller has passed simply because he lived so very long. Few who remember David Rockefeller as a titan of finance and high culture are still actively collecting.
On the other hand, the Rockefeller name is about as close to an imperial dynasty as America has ever seen. If one looks at the premium paid for imperial objects in Asia, it is easy to imagine much of the sale being valued as a talisman of extraordinary achievement.
So was any of that what the Times was getting at? No. Instead we get an inconclusive discussion of porcelain prices that seems to suggest that Rocky’s pots could easily go up in value—even on an inflation adjusted basis:
In 1957, when Mr. Rockefeller was in his early 40s, a Chelsea rabbit-shaped tureen sold at auction for about $11,900, roughly $104,000 today, more than was then being paid for Cubist paintings by Picasso. The current salesroom high for Chelsea porcelain dates from 2003 — £223,650, about $373,000 at the time, which nowadays doesn’t buy much Cubism.
Selling Old Masters Now Requires Learning New Tricks (The New York Times)