I.M. Pei’s Art Collection Heads to Auction

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This fall, the collection of the late I.M. Pei, the architect of the Louvre Pyramid and one of the most celebrated modern architects, will be sold at Christie's in three sales held in New York, Hong Kong and Paris. 

The Louvre Pyramid, 1989, image © Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Olivier Ouadah via Christie's
The Louvre Pyramid, 1989, image © Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Olivier Ouadah via Christie's

Christie's has just announced the sale of the collection of I.M. Pei in a trio of auctions, which will be held successively in New York, Hong Kong and Paris this fall. Works by Jean Dubuffet, Zao Wou-Ki, Henry Moore, Franz Kline and Zhang Daqian, among others, will be represented. 

Ieoh Ming Pei was born in Guangzhou in 1917 in a respected family whose eminence dates back to the Ming Dynasty. A graduate of MIT's School of Architecture, he met Eileen Loo, an art student at Wellesley College and granddaughter of the Chinese ambassador in Washington, and married her in 1942.

Eileen and IM Pei, Hong Kong, 1988, picture © Courtesy Eileen and IM Pei Family Archive
Eileen and IM Pei, Hong Kong, 1988, picture © Courtesy Eileen and IM Pei Family Archive

He founded I.M. Pei & Associatesin 1995 and would become one of the most influential and contemplative architects of the 20th and 21st centuries. His creations gracefully reflect the landscape of the great cities of the world, such as thethe glass pyramid enthroned in the courtyard of the Louvre in Paris, the tower of the Bank of China in Hong Kong, the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC 

When Pei was asked to restore the Louvre, his reaction was unequivocal: "You do not touch the Louvre, it's sacrilege." Pei's solution proved to be revolutionary and simple: to build a glass pyramid in the museum's courtyard. At first despised for its modern appearance in front of the traditional architecture of the institution, the pyramid is today considered a daring and futuristic manifestation of an architect whose creations are at the intersection of art, history and culture. 

The body of paintings, drawings, works on paper and sculptures collected by I.M. Pei and his wife Eileen during their 72 years of marriage is the result of a philosophy that "great artists need big customers". The couple, guided by Eileen Pei's curatorial eye, continued to discover new artists, visiting visual artists' studios such as Dubuffet and Jacques Lipchitz, where several works in the collection were directly acquired.

Li Keran, Pine, dedicated to IM Pei for his 62nd birthday, 1979, image © Christie's
Li Keran, Pine, dedicated to IM Pei for his 62nd birthday, 1979, image © Christie's

"My parents' collection is an intimate reflection of their lifestyle," said Liane Pei, the couple's daughter. "They shared a deep curiosity for the world and I have wonderful memories of traveling with them. Regardless of the country, they always seemed to have friends, many of whom were artists, architects, gallery owners and museum directors, ready to welcome them." Liane remembers visits to her "uncle" Zao Wou-Ki every time she was in Paris, a trip to Venice with Annalee Newman, and regular visits from Barnett Newman, Tony Caroand Isamu Noguchi to the family's homes in Manhattan and Katonah, New York. 

The collection highlights the diversity of the couple's interests and aesthetic influences, and could surpass $25 million. The Wheelbarrow of Jean Dubuffet, an oil on canvas of 1964 inscribed in its cycle of creation "Hourloupe" (1962 1974), will be presented with an estimate between $386,000-610,000. A close friend of the couple, Dubuffet was commissioned by Pei to create a unique work for the East Building of the National Gallery in Washington, designed by the architect and inaugurated in 1978. 

Jean Dubuffet, The Wheelbarrow, 1964, image © Christie's
Jean Dubuffet, The Wheelbarrow, 1964, image © Christie's

The works Untitled 4 and Untitled 5, were made by Barnett Newman in 1950 and are among the few paintings produced by the artist that year. They are part of a series of six works, three of which are held in museum collections in New York, Chicago and Houston and were purchased directly from Newman's widow, Annalee, in the mid-1970s. They are expected to fetch $5 million (Untitled 5), and $8 million (Untitled 4). 

The other flagship lots will include two oils from the most Parisian of Chinese artists, Zao Wou-Ki. The painter, through his practice, rallied Eastern and Western traditions and influences. Settled in Paris with his wife Lalan, Wou-Ki demonstrated a clear influence of impressionists and expressionists in his work, and began to move towards abstraction in the 1960s. The 27.3.70 work preserved in the collection of Pei will be presented with an estimate between $4.8-6.1 million.

Zao Wou-Ki, 27.3.70, image © Christie's
Zao Wou-Ki, 27.3.70, image © Christie's

Marc Porter commented, "It is an honor for Christie's to be responsible for the sale of a collection that demonstrates the wonderful relationship between Eileen and I.M. Pei, true partners in marriage, education, and collection of art and design. The name Pei resonates around the world, it is part of the landscape of dozens of cities including a museum, a concert hall, a university, a hospital, a skyscraper or a public building designed by Pei."

November 12 will mark the beginning of the dispersion of the collection, which will continue during a series of sales until December 4. 

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