Sothebys New York and London to offer Contemporary Art from the Collection of Helga and Walther Lauffs

New York, NY – This spring in New York and later this year in London,, Sotheby’s will offer works from the Collection of Helga and Walther Lauffs, one of the most important German private collections of Contemporary art to ever appear on the market. This collection includes major works from artists ranging from Joseph Beuys, Yves Klein and Piero Manzoni, to Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Tom Wesselmann and Robert Rauschenberg, and comprises important representatives of Minimalism, Pop art, New Realism, Conceptual art and Arte Povera. Approximately 34 works will be offered in Sotheby’s May 14th-15th sales of Contemporary Art in New York (est. in excess of $49 million*), with further works being offered in London later this year in sales of Contemporary Art and Prints**. The total value of the works being offered at auction is estimated in excess of $76 million.

Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art, said: “The Lauffs collection, with its seamless range of important examples of works from every major American and European art movement of the 60s and 70s, creates a uniquely coherent ensemble. At the same time, by singling out and highlighting artists who, in their eyes, diverged from the mainstream, Helga and Walther Lauffs added a personal touch and distinctive direction to the body of works. The melding of these components plus the remarkable collaboration with their percipient friend and advisor, Paul Wember, forge the key to this extraordinary treasure.”

Two key figures are essential to an appreciation of the unique characteristics of the Lauffs collection of Contemporary art: Walther Lauffs, businessman and art enthusiast, and Paul Wember, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum in Krefeld Germany. When they met in 1968, Mr. Lauffs persuaded the farsighted director to assist him in building a Contemporary art collection in exchange for long-term loans of the acquired pieces to Wember’s museum. Their collaboration marked the beginning of a close friendship and underscored a mutual interest and love of art that inspired one of the most esteemed collections of 1960s and 1970s Contemporary art from America and Europe.

When Walther Lauffs met him, Paul Wember had been director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Museum since 1947 and had a distinguished reputation as an active supporter of current art movements and organizer of internationally acknowledged exhibitions of artists such as Alberto Burri (1959), Jean Tinguely and Yves Klein (1960/61) and Robert Rauschenberg (1962). His confidence and keen eye for excellence singled him out during a period when awareness and appreciation for young artists was in rare supply. Wember managed, almost single-handedly, to turn the provincial silk-weaving town of Krefeld into a respected center for Contemporary art. Walther Lauffs and his wife, Helga, recognized Wember’s extraordinary talent for discerning excellence and sought his guidance in fine-tuning their own developing tastes and in bringing an awareness of their joint discoveries to the public.

While current art movements would figure prominently in the Lauffs’ acquisitions in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Wember first suggested they focus on artists of slightly earlier movements to create an historic and artistic continuity in the collection. Acquired in 1968, Yves Klein’s 1960 ultramarine masterpiece, IKB 1, was among their first purchases (est. $5/7 million). The deeply penetrating and intense International Klein Blue is synonymous with the artist’s proposition that paint was not a surface application but a pure and metaphysical substance, allowing monochromatic color to become pure space and extend painting beyond the canvas and into the existential Void. Several additional works by Yves Klein, including the sumptuous gold and pink Monochromes, MG 9, circa 1962, (est. $6/8 million) and MP 13, circa 1960, (est. $2/3 million), respectively, joined the collection shortly thereafter and, together with an Achrome, 1958, by Piero Manzoni (est. $4.5/6.5 million), sets the tone of the collection.

Works by the charismatic Joseph Beuys, including Bett (Corsett), 1949-50 (est. $750/950,000), also formed the nucleus of the Lauffs Collection. Beuys’ avant-garde attitude, his call for new definitions of art and radical new forms of artistic expression greatly spurred the collectors’ already keen interest in sculpture. Apart from Bett (Corsett), 1949/50 (est. $750/950,000), one of Beuys’ earliest sculptures, the collection bridges various art movements and their respective interpretations of the medium of sculpture.

American art is also prominently represented in the Lauffs Collection with key works such as Robert Rauschenberg’s 1961 combine, entitled Slug (est. $3/4 million). This innovative work entered the collection only eight years later and serves to highlight Wember’s immensely prescient understanding of American Pop Art at a time when its appreciation in Europe was still in an embryonic stage. Despite the controversy surrounding Rauschenberg’s unexpected win of the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1963, Wember recognized this maverick genius with an exhibition of his work in Krefeld in 1964, only months after the completion of the artist’s first retrospective at the Jewish Museum in New York. Close on the heels of the 1969 acquisition came works by Robert Indiana (The Great Love (Love Wall), 1966, est. $2.5/3.5 million), Claes Oldenburg (Soft Doors Airflow Model, 1965, est. $600/800,000 million) and Tom Wesselmann, (Great American Nude no. 48, 1963), est. $6/8 million).

American Minimalist art was also part of the Zeitgeist of the day and is represented by key works such as Dan Flavin’s Untitled, 1964 (est. $700/900,000), Frank Stella’s Concentric Squares, 1966, (est. $2/3 million), Carl Andre’s 36 Copper Square, 1968 (est. $2.5/3.5 million) and Donald Judd’s Untitled, 1964 (pictured on page 1, est. $5/7 million). These pieces reflect the revolutionary meaning of color within an aesthetic of restrictive means and illustrate the wide range of new sculptural forms of the era. Flavin’s work evokes space and form seemingly from pure light, while Stella’s Concentric Squares appears sculptural as its planes optically progress out of the canvas toward the viewer. Executed in 1968 for installation at Krefeld Haus Lange, Andre’s modular floor sculpture is one of the penultimate approaches to literalism of material and form. The overall format mimics the square of the individual units to create an incremental as well as unified form. The color tone, quality of reflecting light and weight of the copper are just as integral to the concept of each of Andre’s works. Most dramatically, Judd’s vivid and seminal floor piece – executed in his favored red – shares attributes similar to painting, as form becomes color and vice versa. Considering Judd’s emphasis on industrial material and rudimentary form, his sensitive use of color throughout his oeuvre is masterful. Untitled, 1964 is an historic addition to the Lauffs Collection as it was one of the first inclusions of Judd’s work in a New York exhibition. The show, titled Shape and Structure: 1965 at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, is counted as one of the earliest shows of Minimalism

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

**Details about the London offering will be provided later this season

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