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Grégoire Billault, head of Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s New York, spoke to Whitewaller about the spectacular caliber of the Steven and Ann Ames Collection to be presented at this November’s contemporary art sales.
WHITEWALLER: How did the Steven and Ann Ames Collection find itself entrusted to Sotheby’s New York?
GRÉGOIRE BILLAULT: I believe one of the reasons [they decided to go with us] is that we have an impressive track record with Gerhard Richter. He’s an artist in which we have always believed in, here at Sotheby’s New York. We sold an amazing group of paintings by him in 2011 (eight abstract paintings that exceeded pre-sale expectations of $27 million to bring $74 million), which was also a very special grouping of Richter’s works for which we really found a market at that time. So this is an artist in which we feel we deliver at the highest level.
WW: What makes this collection particularly special?
GB: There are not that many collections like this one in terms of quality. As an auction house we are always desperate for collections of this caliber and to tell new stories, and this is exactly what you want to have. We didn’t call it the “The Triumph of Painting” for nothing. Most of these works have been bought from the primary market. You can feel and see when you look at the group that it’s very much people choosing and building a group of works—a real collection, a real ensemble. There’s a story there, and we are storytellers here at Sotheby’s. That is what we are going to try to do, [tell stories], from Robert Ryman to Philip Guston, from Richter to de Kooning, from Condo to Franz Kline. Every piece of work has been chosen in a very precise way. For example, you’ve got a de Kooning from every single decade, and a Richter from every single decade (except the last one). So they went deep into these two artists, and from these two they expanded to Sigmar Polke, to Anselm Kiefer…
WW: What are the highlights we should know about?
GB: The two most extraordinary works are two [of Richter’s] abstraktes: AB., St James and AB., Still, from 1988 and 1986, respectively. They are one of the best abstraktes we have seen on the market for a long time and both come on the market with a $20-30 million estimate. It’s always difficult to describe abstraction but they are, in terms of color combination, color composition, and power balance, just amazing. I would say that AB., St James is probably the most interesting. Richter has not been using a lot of black in his career, but the way he has been playing with black in this painting is absolutely extraordinary.
WW: You’ve talked about the kind of story a collection can tell. What story can an auction house tell?
GB: What I mean [by “story”] is that when you go to museums you are able to see real grouping of works and collections that have been put together by curators. We, however, exhibit what we receive in terms of what people want to sell. For once, we’ve got a complete group. Two amazing collectors that collected for 40 years. It amounts to a real group of works that go well together, that talk to each other. That doesn’t happen a lot.