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Music Exec Mo Ostin’s $120 Million Art Collection Heads to Auction With Works by Basquiat and Magritte

The group of more than 30 works will be offered at Sotheby's New York in two sales this May.

Mo Ostin (far right) with, from left Nesui Ertegun, Steve Ross, and George Harrison Courtesy of Sotheby's

A collection of more than 30 works amassed by American music executive Mo Ostin will be offered at Sotheby’s this spring, where it is expected to sell for a collective $120 million. The grouping be offered at Sotheby’s New York in a dedicated evening sale on May 16 and as part of a contemporary day sale on May 19.

Ostin, who died at the age of 95 in July 2022 in Los Angeles, made his name as a force in the music industry during a 30-year tenure at Warner Bros. Records, where he served as chairman between 1972 and 1994.

Over the course of his five-decade career, beginning in the 1950s, he helped develop the careers of top musicians such as Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, Prince, Jimi Hendricks, the Kinks, and Madonna. The son of a Russian refugee who emigrated to the U.S., Ostin was born in New York, and his family relocated to Los Angeles when he was an adolescent. He became widely known for giving artists creative license over their work in business dealings, an approach that earned him a long-running reputation for putting artists first. For his contributions, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.

Leading the grouping of 33 works, none of which are backed with third-party financial guarantees, are two paintings by René Magritte. The 1951 canvas L’Empire des lumières pictures the facade of a residential home that merges elements from day and night. Expected to sell for $35 million to $45 million, the painting is part of a 17-work cycle that the artist produced, a number of which are owned by major institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Menil Collection in Houston, and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels. Several are still in private hands and have come to auction in recent years, including last March where one sold at Sotheby’s London for £59.4 million pounds with fees (about $79.7 million).

The other Magritte to be offered, Le Domaine d’Arnheim (1949), depicts a broken window with a view of a mountain top. Sharing its name with 1847 short story by Edgar Allan Poe, the work is estimated at $15 million. In a statement, Sotheby’s chairman Brooke Lampley described the two works as showing Magritte’s ongoing fixations with “real versus the imagined,” calling L’Empire des lumières “one of the most heralded and iconic works of the 20th century and is just one of many works in this collection that will continue to define and influence the art of generations to come.”

The grouping of works headed to auction also has several top-tier abstract works, including an untitled 1962 canvas by Cy Twombly (estimate $14 million to 18 million), a ca. 1958 untitled piece by Joan Mitchell ($7 million to $10 million), and a semi-abstract drawing, titled Two Figures (1946–47), by Willem de Kooning ($5 million to $7 million). Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1984 Moon View similarly carries an estimate of $7 million to $10 million, as does a 1965 landscape by Picasso. Other artists whose work will be sold across both sales include Cecily Brown, Albert Oehlen, and John Marin.

Though Ostin occasionally loaned worked to museums, he was discrete about his art collection, the full range of which has long been kept private. Many of the works have not been seen publicly, Sotheby’s said.

In a statement, Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart described Ostin as “a legendary figure in the music industry, whose genius for finding and nurturing artistic talent was rivaled only by his innate eye as a collector who lived outside the lines, not limiting himself to a specific category or style, but trusting his instincts to lead him to standout works by established artists and always quick to embrace new and exciting voices.”

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