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Early Bids

Handicapping next week’s contemporary art auctions.

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Contemporary art is threatening Impressionism’s dominance in auction sales again this season, echoing a 1980 transition that saw old masters pushed aside. “There’s a hunger in the market now,” says art writer Judd Tully, but not a lot of great product. Still, that won’t deter collectors. A guide to the offerings.

Jeff Koons: A current retrospective at C&M Arts has put Christie’s Jim Beam J.B. Turner Train (estimated at $2 million to $3 million) in a new light. “People are jazzed about the train,” says art adviser Kim Heirston. Another dealer isn’t so impressed: “It’s not his Rabbit. That would be huge.”

Gerhard Richter: “Why is Richter, whose work is rather common, selling for millions?” asks dealer Richard Feigen. Christie’s is pushing 4096 Farben ($3 million to $4 million), a rare color-chart painting. But a close inspection reveals cracks and chips. “They all need to be or have been restored,” dealer Marianne Boesky says of Richters from the sixties and seventies. “People accept that.”

Maurizio Cattelan: Some think Cattelan’s The Ballad of Trotsky ($600,000 to $800,000), a stuffed horse suspended from the ceiling, will exceed $1 million. But a doubter asks, “Where are you going to put that thing?”

Takashi Murakami: Christie’s In the Deep DOB should rake in double its $200,000 to $300,000 estimate. But Sotheby’s eight-foot-high Flower Ball (3-D) ($250,000 to $350,000) will steal all the attention. The devoted early collector who’s selling it expects to make enough from the sale to pay for all his other Murakamis ten times over.

John Currin: These days, you practically need an in with a dealer to buy a Currin—except at auction. So new collectors excited by the Whitney show will have to settle for The Optimist at Sotheby’s or Sister at Christie’s (both estimated at $400,000 to $600,000). But neither seems worth the estimates, which is why dealer Lucy Mitchell-Innes cautions against Currin-mania: “I hope new collectors will be patient.”


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