Kahn Collection Crams Christie's

NEW YORK CITY -- There was a Calder sculpture on a tabletop, a Calder on a bookcase, and a Calder mobile hung from the ceiling.

When there was no room left to hang the Picasso or Matisse drawings in the Kahns’ Riverside Drive home on the Upper West Side, the couple stacked artworks on the floor, against the wall.

Over five decades, the Kahns — Arthur, a successful dentist, and his wife, Anita — built an art collection that seemed to fill every inch of their Manhattan apartment, initially a two-bedroom that grew as they combined it with the apartment next door.

For years and years, I went by that apartment and I never knew what was up there, and when I learned, it was, ‘Well, I’ll be darned,’ ” said Paul R. Provost, deputy chairman of Christie’s Americas.

Beginning this fall, Christie’s is selling 400 objects from the Kahn collection, with a total value estimated at over $50 million. The first lots will be part of the auction house’s New York evening sales in November. The remainder will appear in sales in Paris, London and New York.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network will be bidding at these important auctions of modernism masterpieces.

Among them are 80 works by the American sculptor Alexander Calder, whom the Kahns befriended. They visited him in Connecticut and France, and Calder’s gouaches and his bold, colorful sculptures in sheet metal and bent wire — intimate and airy — populated their rooms.

One of their daughters, Karen Kahn, recalls coming home during college to find new works. “I would often get up in the middle of the night to listen to the Calders move through the air,” she said.

There are other valuable pieces in the collection, like “Tanktotem VIII,” shown here, a 1960 work by the American Abstract Expressionist sculptor David Smith, valued at $2 million to $3 million. The auction mostly comprises works by big-name Modern artists, like Fernand Léger.

The American postwar artist Richard Pousette-Dart’s “Blood Wedding,” from 1958, dominated their living room. Christie’s says it’s his most important work. Mrs. Kahn studied art under, among others, Pousette-Dart, firing the couple’s interest in collecting.

From Friday through Aug. 28, Christie’s is exhibiting some of the Kahn works in its West Galleries in Rockefeller Center.

One morning this week, Mr. Provost marveled as he flipped through Anita Kahn’s handwritten ledger, where she had recorded her purchases over the years. (Mrs. Kahn died in February, and Mr. Kahn died in 1999.)

There had been an Ibram Lassaw sculpture in the master bedroom, a Dorothy Dehner sculpture near the elevator and another Calder gaouche in the kitchen. “There was so much to look at,” Mr. Provost said. “It was everywhere in a celebratory way.”