$30 million painting by Phillip Guston debuts at Sotheby’s – ARTnews.com

In May, shortly after the opening of a long-awaited retrospective of Philip Guston in Boston, a 1958 abstract painting by the artist will debut at auction after having been privately held for four decades.

Nile will be auctioned at Sotheby’s during a nightly sale in New York dedicated to modern art on May 17. The painting has an estimate of $20–30 million, the highest ever given to a work by Guston at auction.

The sale comes a few weeks after the opening of the 100-work exhibition “Philip Guston Now”, which will appear first at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and then travel to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in Museum of Fine Arts Houston and Tate Modern in London. The exhibit was originally scheduled to open in 2020, then that year was controversially delayed due to concerns from its organizers over Guston’s use of Ku Klux Klan imagery.

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The painting dates from a period when Guston had moved from painting in a figurative mode to working in an abstract mode. In the 1960s, he returned to figuration and painted the works of the Klansman. Although less well-known these days than his figurations, Guston’s abstractions have seen renewed interest in recent years, with an acclaimed survey of them appearing in Hauser & Wirth in 2016.

Nile is one of only three of a group of similar paintings still held privately. The others reside at the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum, both in New York.

For more than 40 years, the work has remained in the hands of Dallas-based philanthropists Peter and Edith O’Donnell. The former, who died last October at age 97, amassed his fortune through investments and was a Republican politician during the Nixon era. Edith died in November at age 95.

The artwork will be sold to benefit the collectors’ eponymous charity, which distributes funds for causes related to education, technology, public health and culture. This organization is one of the largest independent foundations in Texas. Foundations like this are often used by ultra-rich people to fund museums and other private and public institutions.

Two other works by Guston from the O’Donnell’s collection will be offered at Sotheby’s during an evening sale of contemporary art in May. Funds from these sales will also benefit the foundation. Sotheby’s has not communicated the price ranges of these works.

Prices for Guston’s works at auction have reached new heights over the past decade.

In November, at the sale of the collection of New York billionaires Harry and Linda Macklowe, held following a contentious divorce, a new record for Guston was nearly set when his 1976 painting strong light sold for $24.4 million, tripling its estimate of $8 million. It came just short of Guston’s record set in May 2013, when the abstraction Fellini (1958), once owned by Nelson Rockefeller, sold for $25.8 million.

Nile will be presented this week at Sotheby’s headquarters in London and will appear later in Hong Kong and New York. This is the first time the painting has been seen publicly.

While the Guston’s sale will likely be closely watched, it’s not the most expensive work to go on sale in New York in May. A Warhol portrait of Marilyn Monroe is set to fetch $200 million at Christie’s. The sale of this work will benefit a foundation created by the family of the late Zurich art dealers Thomas and Doris Ammann.

About Catharine C. Bean

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