A controversial sculpture of a praying Adolf Hitler, titled "Him," is to be sold during a slew of spring art auctions next week in New York.
Over the course of five days, beginning Sunday, about 1,500 artworks -- from the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cy Twombly, Frida Kahlo and Mark Rothko -- are to be auctioned off at Christie's and Sotheby's.
Some experts suggested the sale of the works could bring in more than $1 billion.
But Brett Gorvy, head of Christie's post-war and contemporary art, said while presale estimates have been kept at a realistic level, it really is the bidders who will determine the works' market values.
“We've really gone out looking for individual works which are going to be appealing to the top level of collectors,” Gorvy said.
'We have a lot of demand'
Simon Shaw, co-head of Sotheby's impressionist and modern art, told AFP many of the works have estimates in the $1 million to $20 million range “where we know we have a lot of demand."
Shaw added that Sotheby's also "tried to focus on works totally fresh to the market," such as the two Fauve paintings, which have never been at auction. “That's something collectors really want,” he said.
To accommodate a growing number of collectors from around the world, the impressionist, modern and contemporary art auctions are being held over one week, instead of two.
The auctions begin Sunday with the featured "Him," a wax and resin statue completed in 2001 by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. The sculpture is troublesome, even to the artist.
"I wanted to destroy it myself. I changed my mind a thousand times, every day," Cattelan told the French news agency AFP.
"Hitler is pure fear. It's an image of terrible pain. It even hurts to pronounce his name. And yet that name has conquered my memory. It lives in my head, even if it remains taboo," he added.
'Powerful ... disconcerting'
When viewed from behind, the statue looks like a boy on his knees. But when viewed from the front, it is Hitler, the leader of the Nazi party whose policies led to the Holocaust.
Loic Gouzer, deputy chairman of post-war and contemporary art with Christie's, called Cattelan's work "extremely powerful, extremely disconcerting."
Gouzer, who created the theme-oriented auction evenings, said that the piece would have been a tough sell years ago, but the market seems ready now.
He suggested its sale price might break a previous $8 million record for one of Cattelan's other pieces. Others expect "Him" to sell for $10 to $15 million.
Also for sale Sunday, "One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank" -- a water-filled basketball suspended in the center of a tank of saline solution -- by American artist Jeff Koons is expected to bring as much as $12 million.
Other featured works and auctions include:
On Monday, Sotheby's will offer two masterpieces from the Fauve movement, which is distinguished by its use of saturated colors and simplified forms as a way to express the artist's emotions. Only four major Fauve paintings have come to auction since 2010. Among Monday's offerings: Andre Derain's 1906 view of the River Thames, “Red Sails,” carries a $15 million to $20 million estimate and Maurice de Vlaminck's 1905 landscape near Paris, “Underbrush,” has a $12 million to $18 million estimate.
Also Monday, an exceptionally rare Auguste Rodin marble sculpture of embracing lovers, “Eternal Springtime,” could bring $8 million to $12 million, possibly setting a new record for a marble Rodin sculpture, Sotheby's said. "Eternel Printemps" was carved in 1901-02 from one block.
On Tuesday, Christie's offers “No. 17,” a major canvas by Rothko, for a presale estimate of $30 million to $40 million. Last May, it sold Rothko's “No. 10” for nearly $82 million; the auction record for a Rothko is $86.8 million for “Orange, Red, Yellow." The sale also features nine Calder sculptures that were inspired by the artist's visits to India in 1955. They include “Sumac 17,” estimated at $4 million to $6 million.
"Untitled," a large painting by Basquiat, will also be auctioned Tuesday at Christie's. The price estimate of $40 million is not far from the record for a Basquiat piece, which is $48.8 million for "Dustheads" in 2013.
On Wednesday, Sotheby's will auction off Francis Bacon's diptych “Two Studies for a Self-Portrait,” estimated to sell for $22 million to $30 million.
Also Wednesday, Sotheby's will serve up two paintings by the expressionist Twombly. "Untitled," from 1968 and part of his iconic blackboard paintings series, is valued at more than $40 million. The second, "Untitled (Bacchus 1st Version V)", is valued at more than $20 million.
On Thursday, Christie's will feature about 50 works by impressionist and modern artists. Among the works to be auctioned are a Modigliani valued between $12 and $18 million and Frida Kahlo's "Two Nudes in the Forest (The Earth Itself)," estimated to sell for $8 million to $12 million.
Material for this report came from AP and AFP.