Warner Bros music executive’s collection could fetch $120m during New York’s May auctions


Art that once belonged to late Warner Bros music executive Mo Ostin is expected to bring in more than $120m during Sotheby’s marquee auctions this May, one of several notable single-owner collections that have been consigned this season.

Ostin led Warner Bros. Records for more than 30 years and was a leading figure in the music industry for more than half a century. He worked with artists including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Sammy Davis Jr in the 1950s and, in subsequent decades, artists including Madonna, Prince, Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He died last year at age 95.

Ostin also collected art for around 50 years. In May, Sotheby’s will offer some 30 works from his collection that the auction house estimates will sell for more than $120m collectively. Works headed to the auction block include pieces by René Magritte, Cy Twombly, Willem de Kooning, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Joan Mitchell, Cecily Brown, Takashi Murakami and Pablo Picasso.

Cy Twombly’s Untitled (1962) Courtesy Sotheby’s

The dedicated evening sale of works from Ostin’s collection will be led by two Magritte paintings: L’Empire des lumières (1951) and Le Domaine d’Arnheim (1949). L’Empire des lumières has not been seen in public since Ostin acquired it in 1979, though comparable works from his series of 17 paintings with the same title are in the collections of institutions like the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Menil Collection in Houston and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels. Sotheby’s estimates the painting will sell for between $35m and $45m. Last year, a large 1961 painting from Magritte’s L’empire des lumières series sold at Sotheby’s London for £51.5m (£59.4m with fees), setting a new auction record for the Belgian Surrealist.

Ostin was given Le Domaine d’Arnheim by his close friend and music industry titan David Geffen—one of the world’s pre-eminent art collectors and arts philanthropists—from his own collection as a thank-you gift for helping him establish Asylum Records. Ostin insisted on paying Geffen a fair market price in exchange, according to Sotheby’s, which expects it to bring around $20m at auction.

Other highlight’s from Ostin’s collection include Twombly’s Untitled (1962), which the artist painted in Rome during his “Baroque period” that was influenced by Italy’s ancient architecture, art, poetry and pantheon of gods. The painting is estimated to sell for as much as $18m. Moon View (1984) by Basqiuat has not been seen in public for more than two decades, according to Sotheby’s, which estimates the painting could fetch $7m to $10m.

Paysage (1965) by Pablo Picasso Courtesy Sotheby’s

Two Figures (1946-47) by De Kooning will make its first auction appearance in more than 30 years as part of the sale, according to Sotheby’s, with a $5 to $7m estimate. The drawing on paper was once part of the collection of Joseph H. Hazen, the former vice president and director of Warner Bros. Ostin acquired Cecily Brown’s Free Games for May (2015) just a year after it was painted. Picasso’s Paysage (1965), formerly in the collection of Picasso’s late daughter Maya, is a rare landscape of Mougins, France, where Picasso spent the last 12 years of his life. Sotheby’s estimates it will fetch between $7m and $10m.

Ostin’s collection is the latest in a growing number of significant collections that will hit the auction block in May in New York. Recent high-profile consignments from collectors or their estates include Chicago commodities trader Alan Press and his wife Dorothy, late Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston trustee Gerald Fineberg, and additional works from the record-breaking collections of publishing billionaire S.I. Newhouse and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.


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