Knoedler & Company, which closed last year after 165 years of business, will auction off a portion of its holdings at Doyle Auction House. The 34-lot sale will take place Nov. 13. The top lots include work by Michael Goldberg, Helen Frankenthaller, Conrad Marca-Relli and Robert Rauschenberg, all estimated in the range of $150,000 to $200,000.
Given the recent allegations that fake works by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell were being sold through Knoedler before its closing, Harold Porcher, the vice president and director of modern and contemporary art at Doyle, said in a phone interview that the sale only includes work by artists “that are not part of the controversy.”
“I’ve known people [at Knoedler] for many years,” Mr. Porcher said, “so I had a very good comfort level with the property.” But, he said, “I agreed with the management at Doyle that I would personally vet every piece, which is not something I would do with a normal sale here. In this case, with every single piece, I am assembling the provenance as much as I can back to the artist or the estate.”
Mr. Porcher said that he approached Knoedler himself and proposed doing a sale, under the assumption that other auction houses would have already been in contact with them. (Christie’s declined to comment as to whether they were in communication with Knoedler. We are waiting to hear back from Sotheby’s.)
Mr. Porcher would not say whether the gallery is trying to liquidate its holdings, or what portion of its remaining inventory these 34 lots comprise, but he did say that there were more available pieces that Knoedler might have offered the auction house. A former employee at the gallery, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in an interview that he believed the gallery was attempting to sell what was left of its inventory, “as any company would when they’re under distress.” Anne Freedman, Knoedler’s former long-time director, who has been accused in court documents of selling fake paintings or paintings with a questionable provenance, could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Porcher sees all of this as an opportunity for Doyle, which was founded in 1962 and operates at a much smaller scale than Christie’s and Sotheby’s, New York’s two major auction houses.
“I’m always wanting to get property for my sales,” Mr. Porcher said. “I was excited about calling them. The reason is that Knoedler has been around for over a hundred years, and yes, they’re going through a hard time and some very bad press, but they’ve handled great artists and great works, and I was very excited to deal with it. Inventory at this level, had it not been for the negative press that they already have, Doyle would have a hard time competing for this stuff.”