A $20m Joan Mitchell will lead Sotheby’s offering of works from the collection of New York dealer John Cheim

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John Cheim, one of the namesakes behind Manhattan mainstay gallery Cheim & Reid, will offer works from his personal collection at Sotheby’s starting this autumn. Headlining the sales will be Sunflowers (1990-91), a monumental diptych by Joan Mitchell that is expected to reset the artist’s auction record at more than $20m.

Sotheby’s plans to include the choicest works from Cheim’s holdings in its contemporary evening and day sales in New York in November, with the remaining lots scheduled to cross the block in other auctions at the house through 2024. Nearly every piece to be offered will be making its auction debut, according to a Sotheby’s spokesperson.

Throughout a career in art spanning 45 years, Cheim has distinguished himself as a talent-spotter, curator and a “true champion of artists”, per a statement from the auction house. He joined the Robert Miller Gallery in New York in 1978 before co-founding Cheim & Read with dealer Howard Read in Chelsea two decades later.

Over the years, Cheim assembled a vast personal collection made up of works from several venerable contemporary and post-war artists, ranging from Alex Katz, Alice Neel and Cy Twombly to Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol. He was known for cultivating deep, meaningful relationships with many of these artists, a Sotheby’s spokesperson said, adding that Cheim started exhibiting and collecting works by women artists long before the wider art world began focusing on gender equity.

Joan Mitchell’s Sunflowers (1990-91) Courtesy Sotheby’s

The crown jewel among the lots consigned from Cheim is Mitchell’s monumental Sunflowers (1990-91), painted at the tail end of her well-known abstract series. He acquired the painting in 1991, shortly after its completion, when Mitchell instructed Cheim to select any work in her studio as a gift, according to materials provided by Sotheby’s. The painting does not even have to reach its estimate “in excess of” $20m to surpass Mitchell’s highest-priced work at auction, Blueberry (1969), which brought $16.6m at Christie’s New York in 2018.

Cheim has loaned Sunflowers to multiple major institutional exhibitions of Mitchell’s work, including retrospectives at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Baltimore Museum of Art in 2021 and 2022, respectively, as well as Monet-Mitchell, which premiered at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris in February 2023. The painting was also featured in the 1993 film Six Degrees of Separation, in which Will Smith’s character scams a pair of wealthy art dealers.

Other highlights from Cheim’s collection set to appear in Sotheby’s sales this autumn are an untitled Mitchell painting from 1960 expected to sell for between $3.5m and $4.5m, a 1990 cast of a sculpture from Louise Bourgeois’s Personages series (est $1.8m-$2.5m) and the 1972 Neel portrait Jackie Curtis as a Boy (est $1.5m-$2.5m), which was included in the retrospective organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Bilbao and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in 2021.

Alice Neel, Jackie Curtis As A Boy (1972). Courtesy Sotheby’s

A Jean-Michel Basquiat work on paper titled No Hay Crimen © (1983) could also bring as much as $1.8m in November. (Cheim curated the first survey of Basquiat’s works on paper, according to Sotheby’s.) An untitled 1970 sculpture by Lynda Benglis will mark the artist’s debut in an evening auction, with the work anticipated to sell for between $200,000 and $300,000.

Cheim & Read’s co-founders announced in the summer of 2018 that they would shutter their eponymous space on West 25th Street at year’s end to relocate uptown and transition into private practice. However, the gallery’s public exhibition program reopened at the same address in September 2019 and has continued uninterrupted (save for the Covid lockdown) since that time. The gallery’s next exhibition as of publication time, a solo by Sean Scully, was scheduled to open September 26.

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