An upcoming auction for more than 150 pieces of art from a notable technology mogul is drawing headlines in the art world and could show strength for the popular alternative investing category outside of stocks, bonds, gold and cryptocurrency.
What Happened: Auction house Christie’s is being tasked with selling art that belonged to Microsoft MSFT co-founder Paul Allen, who passed away in 2018.
The auction will take place in November and an estimated $1 billion in sales from the pieces are currently expected. The auction is titled “Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection. Christie’s Americas Chairman Marc Porter highlighted the use of "Visionary" in the title referencing the life of Allen, who believed he could accomplish anything.
“This whole idea of imaging the future became something we started thinking about when we started thinking about who he is and who he represents,” Porter said.
The pieces included in the auction have not all been announced, thought Barron’s revealed two works that have been confirmed: Jasper Johns’ “Small False Start” and Paul Cezanne’s “La montage Sainte-Victoire” with estimated prices of $50 million and $100 million, respectively.
Proceeds from the auction will go to nonprofit organizations, to be named at a later date. Allen previously signed the Giving Pledge in 2010, committing to give away the majority of his wealth to charitable organizations.
Allen was worth $20.8 billion when he passed away, according to estimates from Forbes. During his life, Allen gave away $2.65 billion to charitable organizations. The Giving Pledge was created by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, his former wife Melinda French Gates and Berkshire Hathaway Inc BRKABRKB CEO Warren Buffett.
Why It’s Important: The auction for the artworks comes at a time of high inflation, international conflict and uncertainty for the U.S. economy and many economies worldwide.
A successful auction for Allen’s collection could signal the strength of the art market and the sector continuing to attract dollars as an alternative investment strategy outside the stock market.
Porter said some of Christie’s richest clients have seen their wealth grow and they remain active participants in the art sector. The Christie’s Americas chairman said art auctions saw strength during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to historical averages.
“Certainly in a volatile geopolitical context, works of art are also a safe haven asset,” Porter said. “It may be (that) the stock market decline points in one direction, but these mitigating factors point in another. It’s one of the reasons we’ve seen such consistently high prices.”
Sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, the top three auction houses, were up 25% year-over-year to $7 billion in the first half of 2022, according to art analysis firm ArtTactic.
Fine Art Group managing director Morgan Long sees the large collection from Allen as a key piece to the fall season.
“The only way to ensure we’re going to have a strong 2022 is with these great collections. Christie’s is doing what needs to be done by going out and getting great material," Long said
Long said the appetite for masterpieces, which could be part of the upcoming Allen auction, is still “very strong.”
The $1 billion estimate for the Allen art collection could pass the $835.1 million raised in 2018 from a collection of pieces from Peggy and David Rockefeller.
Sales from the Allen art collection going to charity could also increase the interest by collectors and investors, according to Porter.
“Philanthropy is such an evolutionary moment,” Porter said. “There is a delight for buyers knowing that in addition to buying something great, it will also have a salutary effect on the nation or the world or wherever the philanthropy is working.”
Photo: Miles Harris via Wikimedia Creative Commons
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