When Jeff Koons's porcelain sculpture of a bare-breasted Jayne Mansfield look-alike hugging a pink panther appeared in a gilded chamber at the Chateau de Versailles near Paris in 2008, some in France were not exactly pleased. They also were not thrilled at the sight of Mr. Koons's plexiglass-encased display of vacuum cleaners and floor polishers sitting beneath the official portrait of Marie Antoinette. ARTKABINETT art collector social network had the opportunity of viewing the palatial exhbition.
Yet these seemingly outrageous sculptures from earlier in Mr. Koons's career, along with his sculptures "Rabbit" and "Balloon Dog," have joined the lexicon of recognizable images of 20th-century art. When one surfaces at auction, is in good condition and carries a reasonable estimate, it generally becomes the most recognizable symbol of the season.
This spring brace yourself for the return of the "Pink Panther." In 1999 Christie's sold one of the sculptures -- it was made in an edition of three, as well as an artistís proof 11 years earlier -- to Peter Brant, the newsprint magnate, for $1.8 million, a record price for the artist at the time. On May 10 Sotheby's will be selling the artistís proof. Besides Mr. Brant, the Museum of Modern Art in New York owns a "Pink Panther," as does the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
This "Pink Panther" is expected to sell for $20 million to $30 million. " It is the last one," said Tobias Meyer, director of Sothebyís contemporary art department worldwide.
Although the seller's name will not appear in Sotheby's catalog, those familiar with Mr. Koons's work say it is the publisher Benedikt Taschen, who has collected and sold Koons sculptures before. In 2007 he sold Mr. Koons's "Diamond (Blue)," a solitary giant blue diamond fashioned from shiny steel, at Christieís for $11.8 million; two years later he sold the artist's "Large Vase of Flowers," also at Christie's, for $5.7 million.
This season Sotheby's was able to snag the business. Like so many big-ticket works coming to auction these days, the piece belonging to Mr. Taschen comes with a guarantee -- an undisclosed sum promised to the seller regardless of the outcome of a sale -- said to be close to $20 million and financed by a third party. Mr. Meyer acknowledged that the auction house had guaranteed the sculpture but declined to say who put up the money or how much.