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Record Prices Expected at N.Y. Auctions

Times Art Writer

Four names dominate a high-powered slate of New York auctions, beginning tonight at Christie’s, but only one of them--Pablo Picasso--belongs to an artist. The others are names of collecting couples: Burton and Emily Hall Tremaine, Sally and Victor W. Ganz, and William and Edith Mayer Goetz.

Nevertheless, Picasso is a constant presence among big-ticket items in this seven-day round of sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art that auction house officials predict will total more than $300 million.

The prolific master’s 1910 Cubist painting “Woman With a Mandolin” is expected to bring between $10 million and $14 million Tuesday at Christie’s. That is the top estimate in the November auctions and well above Picasso’s record of $7.6 million, paid in 1987 for “Remembrance of Le Havre.”

The predominantly brown and gray, oval-shaped “Woman With a Mandolin,” from the collection of Hester Diamond, is a prime example of the early, analytical phase of Cubism, when Picasso and Georges Braque developed a conceptual sort of realism based on observation from multiple viewpoints.

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But despite its credentials--and having been in the collections of Nelson A. Rockefeller and Picasso biographer Roland Penrose--some auction aficionados speculate that “Woman With a Mandolin” may be outbid by two Picassos in the Goetz collection, to be sold Monday at Christie’s. One of those is “Motherhood,” a Blue Period canvas depicting a woman kissing her young son. The other is a winsome portrait of Picasso’s 4-year-old son dressed as a harlequin.

Another prime contender for a Picasso record is “The Bird Cage,” a 1923 masterpiece of the relatively decorative, synthetic phase of Cubism. The pride of the Ganz collection, this brightly colored interior with a caged yellow bird in one corner is estimated to bring between $7 million and $10 million Thursday at Sotheby’s.

The sales begin tonight with Christie’s $20-million auction of 32 contemporary works from the collection of Burton and Emily Hall Tremaine, billed as “the finest group of contemporary art ever to appear at auction.”

The Park Avenue auction house bases its claim on such works as Jackson Pollock’s 7-foot-wide “Frieze,” a 1953-55 drip painting estimated to bring between $4 million and $6 million, and Jasper Johns’ 1955-58 “White Flag,” an elegant, trademark piece that is expected to fetch between $5 million and $6 million.

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If these predictions are accurate, both artists will break records set only last May. Pollock’s smaller 1955 drip painting “Search” was sold in May for $4.8 million, the highest auction price ever paid for a contemporary artwork. Johns’ record--also a record for a living artist--is $4.2 million, paid for his huge encyclopedic painting called “Diver.”

Three Abstract Expressionist works--a glowing yellow and orange abstraction by Mark Rothko, a crisp “zip” painting by Barnett Newman and a classic black and white canvas by Franz Kline--are also expected to set records well above the million-dollar mark in the Tremaine sale.

The Tremaines are considered exemplary collectors of contemporary art, revered for spotting superior quality and significant new talent. Burton Tremaine, a Connecticut manufacturer of industrial lighting and a pioneer in corporate art patronage, put his collection on a nationwide tour in 1948. An updated Tremaine collection went on view in 1984 at the Wadsworth Atheneum in an exhibition that knowledgeable collectors recall with misty-eyed admiration.

Some works from the Tremaine collection have been sold on previous occasions, but this week’s sale is the first to offer a large group of major pieces. Proceeds will go to a foundation to be formed from the late Emily Hall Tremaine’s estate.

Immediately following the Tremaine sale, Christie’s will auction 59 pieces of contemporary art consigned by various owners. Prime among them are three potential record-breakers: Arshile Gorky’s 1944 painting “The Sun, the Dervish in the Tree” ($3 million to $4 million); Andy Warhol’s playful paint-by-number-style “Do It Yourself (Violin)” ($2 million to $2.5 million) and Sam Francis’ 1957-58 abstraction “Towards Disappearance” ($1 million to $1.5 million).

On Thursday night, contemporary art aficionados will move uptown to Sotheby’s, where the sale of a dozen paintings from the Ganz collection--six Picassos and two works each by Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella--is expected to total between $20 million and $30 million.

The Rauschenbergs are from the mid-'50s, when many critics believe he did his best work. “Rebus,” an 11-foot-wide oil, pencil, fabric and paper collage on canvas, is regarded as “a seminal work in the development of Rauschenberg’s combine paintings,” according to Sotheby’s.

Bearing collaged images from newspaper sports pages, comic strips and a reproduction of Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” the huge work is an example of Rauschenberg’s celebrated effort to merge art and life by combining throwaway evidence of popular culture with traditional art forms. “Rebus” is estimated to sell for $2.5 million to $3.5 million. The auction record for a Rauschenberg is $814,000, paid last year for “Backwash.”

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Ganz began collecting art while still a teen-ager and bought his first Picasso in 1941. He continued to acquire artworks until 1987, first buying Picassos exclusively and later concentrating on top American contemporary artists. At his death last year, Victor W. Ganz was vice president of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

A sale of 75 lots of contemporary art following the Ganz auction will feature another major work by Johns, called “False Start” and valued at $4 million to $5 million. In this splashy red, yellow and blue canvas, from the Francois de Menil collection, Johns contradicts perceptions of color by deliberately mismatching stenciled names of hues with patches of pigment.

Other highlights of Sotheby’s contemporary sale include Warhol’s serial image “Marilyn Monroe (20 Times),” estimated at $1.3 million to $1.8 million, and major Abstract Expressionist works by Kline, Newman and Rothko.

The auction subject will switch from contemporary to Impressionist and modern art Friday--and prices will probably soar into the stratosphere. In Sotheby’s Friday night auction, 35 of the 80 lots offered bear estimates of at least $1 million. The most expensive item is “Lowering the Curtain,” an 1880 pastel by Edgar Degas depicting ballet dancers at the end of a performance, valued at $7 million to $9 million.

Degas will be in the spotlight again Monday, in Christie’s $20-million dollar sale of 28 Impressionist and modern works from the William and Edith Mayer Goetz collection. A 1921 bronze cast of “Little Dancer at Age 14,” a 3-foot-tall figure wearing a muslin tutu and satin ribbon, is estimated at $8 million to $10 million. A cast of the same figure sold earlier this year for $10.1 million.

The Los Angeles-based Goetz collection was started in the ‘40s by film producer William Goetz and his wife, Edith Mayer Goetz, the daughter of film mogul Louis B. Mayer. After the death of their parents, the Goetzes’ daughters, Judith Shepherd of Beverly Hills and Barbara Windom of Malibu, decided to retain a few pieces and put the bulk of the collection up for auction.


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