Met considers sale of Picasso’s first cubist sculpture as she struggles to extricate herself from $ 150 million shortfall

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The Art Detective is a weekly column by Katya Kazakina for Artnet News Pro that lifts the veil on what really happening in the art market.

When the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced last week that it would sell around $ 1 million in art to help fill a $ 150 million pandemic-induced shortfall, it was clear there was still more valuable works pending.

The Art Detective has learned that the Met is seriously considering selling a rare 1909 sculpture by Pablo Picasso, Head of a Women. TThe work was estimated at more than $ 30 million by auction specialists earlier this year, according to people familiar with the valuation process. The sale and location have yet to be announced, but it will likely be next year at Christie’s, they said.

A Met spokesperson stressed that no final decision has been made.

“As we shared months ago, the museum makes disposals every year, valuing some years as high as $ 15 million,” the spokesperson said. “Making a decision on which parts will be withdrawn involves a full process of scrutiny by the Conservatives and the Board of Directors, which is currently underway…. This process will be deliberate and transparent, but nothing is decided yet, beyond what was announced last week. “

The country’s largest museum takes take advantage of an unusual two-year window, until April 2022, during which the Association of Art Museum Directors authorized its members to sell art in order to raise money for the care of the collection, rather than for the only acquisitions.

The Met announced last week that it will be unloading 219 prints and photographs at Christie’s, which will offer them in three auctions starting next month. They could raise up to $ 1.4 million, Christie’s said.

The Met spokesperson said the museum’s approach to this round of disposals would be no different than usual. “except that we will follow the same practice that other museums are pursuing and will devote part of the funds raised from these sales to the salaries of staff working on the care of the collection by the crisis caused by the pandemic. “

The museum has examined hundreds of pieces in all departments to determine what to surrender, from Chinese artwork to Civil War photographs, according to people familiar with the process. He also sought the advice of experts, including Tobias Meyer, private art dealer and former star auctioneer at Sotheby’s.

Visitors line up for the Alice Neel exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on August 27, 2020 (Photo by Liao Pan / China News Service via Getty Images)

The proceeds of the museum’s traditional annual disposal program are still invested in new acquisitions. This cycle will likely generate more than twice as much as its typical schedule and fund collection care, staff salaries, and other uses under AAMD’s temporarily relaxed rules.

“The works we use for the assignment are duplicates, multiples, copies of the same thing [we have] better, ”museum director Max Hollein said in an interview earlier this month. The 219 prints and photographs sold are duplicates, Christie’s noted last week.

The Picasso would be too.

The sculpture depicts the lover of the Spaniard Fernande Olivier as an accumulation of angular shapes. It is considered to be Picasso’s first cubist sculpture, according to the Met website. The artist produced the original model in early fall 1909 in the Paris studio of his sculptor friend Manuel Hugué.

“As in his early Cubist paintings, the shape of his sculpted head is faceted into smaller units,” the Met says on its website. “Intended to be viewed in circles, the composition changes shape when viewed from different angles. The slight tilt of the head and the ample curves of the neck give an impression of movement, as if she is going to look over her shoulder.

A slew of Picasso "Head of a woman" sculptures at the Picasso museum.  (Photo by Thierry Chesnot / Getty Images)

A slew of Picasso Head of a woman sculptures at the Picasso museum. (Photo by Thierry Chesnot / Getty Images)

The 16-inch-high bronze has been in the museum’s possession for 36 years, first as a loan and then as a bequest from patron Florene M. Schoenborn, who died in 1995.

Schoenborn and her second husband Samuel A. Marx have assembled a large collection of modern European art with an emphasis on cubism. The treasure was scattered across four museums: the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the St. Louis Art Museum.

Head of a woman is “a flagship work of sculpture from the 20e century, ”said an auction official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the matter. “The opportunity to have one is incredibly rare. “

Another casting of the sculpture entered the museum’s collection earlier this year, according to its website, presumably opening the door for it to sell the other. The duplicate is titled Head of a Woman (Fernande) and came from a treasure trove of Cubist art donated by patron Leonard Lauder. It has a more illustrious exhibition history than that envisaged for sale, having featured in iconic Picasso traveling exhibitions in 1940 and 2006.

It is not known how many bronzes were cast from Picasso’s original model, according to researchers Renzo Leonardi and Derek Pullen. Their 2016 paper suggests that around 20 bronzes were created over three decades. The first dates from 1911 and was produced by Picasso’s French dealer Ambroise Vollard, who purchased the original model and the artist’s reproduction rights. (The second cast was made by the German dealer and collector Heinz Berggruen in 1959 and 1960; this edition included nine bronzes.)

The two Met bronzes date back to the Vollard cast, according to Leonardi and Pullen. Also linked to Vollard is a bronze from the estate of Belgian collector René Gaffe, which sold for $ 4.9 million at Christie’s in 2001, the highest price for a Fernande head up for auction, according to the Artnet price database.

Andy Warhol’s Mao paintings were on display in the “China: Through The Looking Glass” gallery at the Met Costume Institute in 2015. Photo by Slaven Vlasic / Getty Images

If sold, the Picasso would be among the most valuable items to be donated by a museum in recent years. In 2005, the New York Public Library made headlines by selling the work of Asher B. Durand Related spirits (1849) to Alice Walton for $ 35 million. Other more recent examples include the sale by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art of Edward Hopper’s work. East Wind on Weehawken (1934) for $ 40.5 million in 2013 and the unloading by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art of a canvas by Mark Rothko for $ 50.1 million in order to diversify its collection in 2019.

Among other works considered for disposal by the Met was an Andy Warhol Mao painting from 1973, according to a person familiar with the discussions, who was the gift of the fashion designer Halston in 1983. The Met has a surprisingly large collection of representations of the Chinese leader by Warhol.

Philip Guston’s abstract painting was also examined. Paint (1952), donated to the Met by the late donor Muriel Kallis Newman in 2006. The museum has a surprisingly similar, slightly smaller canvas from the same year, Painting, Number 5, which was given in 1990. This version was included in prestigious exhibitions including the Venice Biennale in 1960.

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