- Associated Press - Friday, May 1, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - New York City’s spring art auctions get underway Tuesday with exceptional pieces by Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Vincent Van Gogh and others whose work continues to fuel a robust market for impressionist, modern and contemporary art.

Picasso’s “Women of Algiers (Version O),” estimated to bring over $140 million, is poised to become the most expensive artwork sold at auction, while Giacometti’s “Pointing Man” could set an auction record for a sculpture if bidding soars to an expected $130 million.

Both are being offered at Christie’s on May 11.

Experts say the once unimaginable prices are fueled by established and wealthy new buyers and the desire by collectors to own the best works.

“I don’t really see an end to it, unless interest rates drop sharply, which I don’t see happening in the near future,” said Manhattan dealer Richard Feigen. “Buyers will flock in from the Far East, the Gulf and Europe.”

In 2012, Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” fetched nearly $120 million only to be bested a year later when Francis Bacon’s triptych “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” sold for $142.4 million.

Now Picasso’s 1955 “Women of Algiers” could potentially eclipse that stratospheric price tag. The vibrantly colorful work featuring a scantily attired female amid smaller nudes is part of a 15-work series that Picasso created in 1954-1955. It has appeared in several major museum retrospectives of the artist.

Giacometti’s 1947 “Pointing Man,” a life-size bronze of an elongated figure with extended arms, has been in the same private collection for 45 years. Giacometti, who died in 1966, made six casts of the work; four are in museums, the others are in private hands and a foundation collection.

His “Walking Man I” holds the auction record for a sculpture. It sold in 2010 for $104.3 million.

The Picasso and Giacometti are among two dozen blue chip 20th-century works that Christie’s is offering in a stand-alone sale called “Looking Forward to the Past.”

“The pieces for sale this spring are truly outstanding. Many, like Giacometti’s ‘Pointing Man,’ are iconic 20th-century works of art and (are) of museum quality. The Tate and MoMA own editions of ‘Pointing Man,’ for example,” said Sarah Lichtman, professor of design history and curatorial studies at The New School.

She said impressionist and modern artworks continue to corner the market because “they are beautiful, accessible and a proven value … the works epitomize the conservative, moneyed establishment.”

Another piece that could test the market is “Benefits Supervisor Resting” by Lucian Freud, who died in 2011. Considered one of the British artist’s most celebrated works, it depicts the ample figure of a reclining woman, every fold, curve and blemish of her naked form revealed. Christie’s is offering it May 13 with a pre-sale estimate of $30 million to $50 million. Another painting from the series, “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,” brought $33.6 million at Christie’s in 2008. At the time, it was the most expensive painting by a living artist sold at auction.

The spring auctions begin at Sotheby’s on Tuesday with a sale featuring a late van Gogh. “The Allee of Alyscampsis” is a lush autumnal scene that the artist created in 1888 while working side-by-side for two months with his friend Paul Gauguin in Arles, in the south of France. Sotheby’s predicts it will bring more than $40 million.

“To have a canvas from Arles by that very self-taught artist at the height of his work marks the sale as momentous,” said Clifford Edwards, a van Gogh expert and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Also on Tuesday, Sotheby’s is offering six paintings spanning four decades of Claude Monet’s career for an estimated $78 million. The star is “Water Lilies,” a 1905 version of the artist’s beloved pond and gardens at his home in Giverny, France, that is estimated to fetch $30 million to $45 million. Monet’s 1908 painting of Venice with a view of the Palazzo Ducale on the Grand Canal could bring $15 million to $20 million.

At its contemporary art auction on May 12, Sotheby’s is offering Rothko’s “Untitled (Yellow and Blue)” for an estimated $40 million to $60 million. It hung at the National Gallery in Washington for 10 years while it was owned by the late Rachel “Bunny” Mellon. Another highlight, Roy Lichtenstein’s “The Ring (Engagement),” could bring in about $50 million.

Among the highlights at Christie’s May 13 auction is Andy Warhol’s “Colored Mona Lisa” estimated to bring about $35 million.

“Swamped,” by Peter Doig could surpass the current $18 million record for the British artist when it goes under the hammer at Christie’s May 11 sale. It’s estimated at $20 million.

Lichtman predicted that buyers will continue to seek “these works out as they would a blue chip company that pays reliable dividends for years to come.”

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