The Mystery of the Unsold Lichtenstein

The Mystery of the Unsold Lichtenstein
Informed visitors to FIAC might recognize one of the paintings installed in the fair’s new and luxe Projet Moderne/Modern Project section sited in the center of the Grand Palais as a visitor from the auction world. Roy Lichtensteins Half Face with Collar (1963), a prime 48-inch-square canvas, came up for auction at Sotheby’s November 2008 contemporary art evening sale in New York, carrying a guarantee reported at the time to be $15 million. The painting, consigned by legendary Italian dealer and collector Gian Enzo Sperone, didn’t sell, and Sotheby’s became the owner by default. The big question is, Who owns the painting now?

In the Grand Palais, the Lichtenstein hangs alongside Andy Warhols Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice), also from 1963, both listed as entries from Gagosian Gallery, one of the 10 blue-chip dealers selected for the Projet Moderne section. Did Larry Gagosian take the painting off Sotheby’s hands after its rude buy-in? The mega-dealer wasn’t available for comment, but a source at FIAC close to the gallery said, “Larry owns it and it’s definitely for sale.”

Judd Tully is Editor at Large of Art+Auction.