Late Record Exec Mo Ostin’s $120 Million Art Collection Is Headed to Auction, Including Works by Magritte, Basquiat, and Picasso

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The late record executive Mo Ostin was beloved for his longstanding support of performers like Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell, and Madonna. But these were not the only artists that he championed. 

Next month, Sotheby’s will offer 30 works from Ostin’s personal collection—many of which have only been seen on rare occasions. Altogether, the group is expected to fetch $120 million. 

Two paintings by René Magritte stand out from the bunch. The artist’s 1951 canvas , which depicts an illuminated home at twilight, carries a presale estimate of $35 million to $45 million. It’s one of 17 in a series of similar paintings by Magritte, but this version hasn’t been seen publicly since Ostin purchased it in 1979. Sotheby’s calls it one of the “most important and iconic works of Modern Art in private hands.”  

Meanwhile, Magritte’s other piece in the sale, a 1949 surrealistic scene of a broken window before a snowy mountaintop called is expected to fetch $15 million. The two artworks, which lived at Ostin’s home in L.A., “exemplify the artist’s obsession with the irony of the real versus the imagined,” said Sotheby’s chairman Brooke Lampley in a statement. 

René Magritte, L’Empire des lumières (1951). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Other highlights from the Ostin collection include a pair of spare, abstract compositions by Cy Twombly and Joan Mitchell, both untitled. Twombly’s painting, created in 1962, is estimated to sell for $14 million to $18 million, while Mitchell’s 1958 artwork is expected to bring in $7 million to $10 million. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s graphic 1984 painting, , carries an estimate of $7 million to $10 million; so does Pablo Picasso’s 1965 Paysage, which shows the Mougins commune in France. 

These and other paintings—including pieces by Cecily Brown, Willem de Kooning, Takashi Murakami, and Albert Oehlen—will be offered across two events: a dedicated evening sale set for May 16 and a contemporary day sale on May 19. None of the artworks carry a guarantee. 

“This collection is the highlight and centerpiece of our May auction season in New York,” Lampley added.  

After dropping out of law school, Ostin entered the music industry in 1954 with a job at Clef Records (later renamed Verge Records). Sinatra attempted to buy the company later in the decade, but he came up short. So he started his own label, Reprise Records, and hired Ostin to lead it. 

Mo Ostin at his desk, circa 1970. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

Three years later, Ostin went to work for Warner Bros. Records, where he signed the Kinks and Jimi Hendrix. He became chairman and CEO of the company in 1972, and would remain in that role through 1994. During that time, he oversaw the signing of many seminal acts, including Fleetwood Mac, Prince, Paul Simon, R.E.M., and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Ostin died at his home in L.A. in August 2022. He was 95.  

Charles F. Stewart, Sotheby’s CEO, called Ostin a “legendary figure in the music industry, whose genius for finding and nurturing artistic talent was rivaled only by his innate eye as a collector who lived outside the lines, not limiting himself to a specific category or style, but trusting his instincts to lead him to standout works by established artists and always quick to embrace new and exciting voices.”

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