Gallerist John Cheim Is Selling His Personal Art Collection

Among the lots is a $20 million Joan Mitchell painting, expected to shatter the artist's previous auction record.

Works by famed artists like Joan Mitchell, Louise Bourgeois and Alice Neel will hit the auction block this fall in “A Life of Beauty” as Sotheby's begins to sell off the art collection of gallerist John Cheim, co-founder of the storied New York gallery Cheim & Read. The strong showing of woman-created pieces in the initial sale aligns with Cheim’s forty-five-year career, during which he has notably championed female artists.

Large abstract painting hangs in room with desk and lamp
Joan Mitchell’s Sunflowers (1990-1991), as displayed in John Cheim’s loft in New York. Courtesy Julian Cassady Photography

“His unwavering support of women artists, beginning at a time when many were not receiving their due recognition, is only one of the many qualities that defines his remarkable practice as a gallerist, curator and publisher,” said Lisa Dennison, chairman of Sotheby’s Americas, in a statement.

A California native, Cheim earned a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and interned with curator Martha Beck at the alternative Drawing Center museum before becoming gallery director at New York’s Robert Miller in 1978. In addition to bringing artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Milton Resnik to the gallery, he grew its roster of artwork by women with Mitchell, Bourgeois, Neel and Louise Fisherman.

Two men with gray hair dressed in black suits
Howard Read and John Cheim. Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Cheim continued representing Mitchell when he started his own gallery in 1997 with dealer Howard Read. Together, they shined a light on woman-created artwork, with an inaugural show that juxtaposed Jenny Holzer’s Living series with Louise Bourgeois’ 1996 Spider. In 2009, Cheim & Read staged The Female Gaze: Women Looking at Woman, an exhibition that featured female subjects as portrayed by artists like Marlene Dumas, Tracey Emin, Maria Lassnig and Joan Semmel. The gallery later held a reverse iteration of the exhibition in 2016, where female artists analyzed the male figure.

In addition to his work as gallerist and curator, Cheim is himself an artist and designer. He has long designed books, having helped create catalogues for Robert Miller in the 1980s and produce titles for artists like Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe. Cheim is responsible for producing the first catalogues of Basquiat’s works on paper, Mitchell’s pastels, Bourgeois’ drawings and Neel’s watercolors.

Cheim’s $20 million Joan Mitchell diptych is expected to break the artist’s auction record

His collection “reflects decades of a life spent championing artists,” according to Sotheby’s, offering a glimpse into Cheim’s life as a gallerist, curator, collector and tastemaker—and his unique aesthetic.

Several works by Mitchell, who Cheim began working with in the mid-80s, were in the gallerist’s collection and will go on the block during the initial sale. The standout piece in the November sale may be her bold and colorful Sunflowers, which has a high estimate of more than $20 million in its auction debut and is expected to shatter the artist’s previous auction record of $16.6 million.

A sculpture by Bourgeois, Woman with Packages, will be up for sale with a high estimate of $4.5 million. At more than six feet, the towering bronze piece has various “appendages” representing the artist’s three children.

Large white pole sculpture with various appendages attached
Louise Bourgeois’ Woman with Packages, conceived in 1949 and cast in 1990. Courtesy of Sotheby's

In keeping with the long-running relationship between Neel and Cheim, Neel’s 1972 portrait of Jackie Curtis, a gender nonconforming performer and playwright, is included among the dealer’s pieces set to be sold by Sotheby’s with a high estimate of $2 million. Curtis, a member of “Warhol’s superstars,” was also immortalized in Lou Reed’s 1972 hit Walk on the Wild Side.

Oil portrait of man posing in chair
Alice Neel’s Jackie Curtis as a Boy, (1972). Courtesy of Sotheby's

Other notable lots in Cheim’s collection include Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1983 No Hay Crimen ©, which has a high estimate of $.8 million and a beeswax painting created by Lynda Benglis in 1970. Nearly every piece in Cheim’s collection is appearing at auction for the first time, according to Sotheby’s, which will host additional sales of the gallerist’s pieces throughout 2024.

Gallerist John Cheim Is Selling His Personal Art Collection