IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Lehman Bros. art is on auction block

More than 200 pieces from the art collection of failed banking giant Lehman Brothers are going on the auction block in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Art Lehman Auction
People view artworks from the failed banking giant Lehman Brothers at Freeman's auction house in Philadelphia. Matt Rourke / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Even in these trying financial times, you're not going to see many going-out-of-business sales like this one.

On Sunday, hundreds of works from the art collection of failed banking giant Lehman Brothers will go on the auction block at Freeman's auction house in Philadelphia.

The 200-plus pieces of modern and contemporary art up for bid once lined the corridors and graced the board rooms of Lehman's offices in New York, Boston and Wilmington, Del. Highlights of Sunday's sale include prints by Claes Oldenburg, David Hockney, Robert Indiana, Frank Stella and Roy Lichtenstein.

Anne Henry, vice president of the 204-year-old auction house, valued the collection at $500,000 to $750,000. There is no reserve price on most of the art, save for about a dozen pieces estimated at $10,000 and up.

"Our phones have been ringing off the hook," she said. "The pieces are interesting, in great condition and appeal to all kinds of collectors."

The group is largely comprised of American artists from the 1930s to the present. Some pieces were purchased mere months before Lehman's spectacular collapse in September 2008 under $600 billion of debt, the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history and the harbinger of the worst U.S. financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Now, everything must go.

The Philadelphia auctioneers will hold two more sales from the Lehman collection: paintings and sculpture on Dec. 6th and a no-reserve auction of 450 more prints on Feb. 12.

"Freeman's is giving us national exposure for our better works as well as the moderate items that would be overlooked by larger houses," said Kimberly Macleod, spokeswoman for Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

The auction does not include any of the personal collection of Richard Fuld, Lehman's vilified former chief executive and (formerly) avid art collector. A year ago, 16 works owned by Fuld and his wife were auctioned by Christie's for $13.5 million, far below the $20 million estimate.

The market for postwar contemporary art has fallen precipitously, along with the fortunes of high-end art collectors, since the world economic free fall. But Henry believes that applies more to the big-ticket art market.

"Things priced reasonably, in good condition and with good provenance will continue to do very well," she said. "There hasn't been the same kind of impact at this level than might be true for the multimillion-dollar Damien Hirsts."

The Freeman's auction includes an Alexander Calder print with an estimated price of $800-$1,200 and a set of nine Walker Evans photographs estimated to fetch $1,000-$1,500: not exactly fire-sale prices, but within reach of those beyond the super wealthy.

At the upper end of the price spectrum is a print of the Statue of Liberty by pop art master Roy Lichtenstein, expected to sell for $15,000 to $25,000.

"A lot of long-standing collectors who had been priced out of the market are able to come back in," Henry said. "We're also seeing new clients too, people who've never bought art before, who are really interested."