MoMA to Auction $70M in Art to Expand Museum’s Digital Footprint

Twenty-nine of the eighty-one works comprising the collection of the late William S. Paley, the founder of Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and a former president of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s this fall in aid of the museum’s digital footprint. The collection has been on loan to MoMA since Paley’s death in 1990, with many of the pieces in storage since that time.

The sale is expected to bring in between $70 million and $100 million, with the lion’s share of the funds going toward the founding of an endowment for digital media and technology at the museum and toward what MoMA in a press release characterized as “new digital acquisitions,” and the possible launch of a streaming channel. The rest of the proceeds will aid Paley Foundation causes, which span the arts, media, and medicine. 

Among the works slated for auction are Pablo Picasso’s 1919 Guitare sur une table, whose estimated value is between $20 million and $30 million; Auguste Renoir’s 1905 Les fraises, expected to fetch between $3 million and $4 million; and Francis Bacon’s 1963 triptych Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, valued at roughly $35 million. According to Sotheby’s, the Bacon work has not been to market since Paley purchased it from New York’s Marlborough Gallery the year it was made. Other paintings going on the block include those by Pierre Bonnard, Andre Derain, Joan Miró, and Pierre-August Renoir. The works will be sold at auctions taking place in London and New York in October and November.

Because the works were under MoMA’s stewardship, rather than officially part of its collection, the auction is not considered an example of deaccessioning, a controversial practice that has been increasingly weighed by museums in recent years as they seek to diversify their holdings.

Paley, a longtime and avid collector of contemporary art, joined MoMA’s board in 1937, eight years after the musuem’s founding, and became its president in 1962, subsequently becoming chairman. He departed the role in 1985 and bequeathed the loan of the works through his foundation. The collection since his death has been the subject of two traveling exhibitions, one taking place in 1992 and the other running from 2012 to 2014.


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