Art works set to smash auction records go on show in Warsaw

On the march. Magdalena Abakanowicz’s ‘Caminando’ could go for over PLN 10 million. Kalbar/TFN

Two major works of art expected to send Polish art records tumbling later this month at auction have gone on display in Warsaw.

The piece was once owned by Robin Williams.Kalbar/TFN‘Caminando’ by Magdalena Abakanowicz, one of Poland’s most internationally acclaimed artists who died in 2017, is predicted to achieve a price that will sail far past the current record holder, ‘M 39’ by Wojciech Fangor which sold for PLN 4.72 million last year. 

The set of 20 bronze walking sculptures, which went on display in Poland for the first time in Poland on October 18 at the Desa Unicum gallery in Warsaw, has been set a guide price of PLN 7-10 million. 

The figures stood in the Williams’ garden and they were outside for the whole time,' says Agata Szkup (pictured), head of sales at Desa Unicum.Kalbar/TFN

“Individual walking sculptures of Magdalena Abakanowicz of this size have sold for PLN 500-600,000. But here we have 20 sculptures. The Caminando group could sell for even more than a simple multiple of that amount,” said Juliusz Windorbski, president of Desa Unicum.

Martha Williams fell in love with Abakanowicz’s work when she was an art student in New York and always dreamed of owning one of her pieces. Kalbar/TFN

“Our estimate of between PLN 7-10 million is very conservative. Even this, though, would be an absolute record for the Polish market,” he added. 

Expectations for a record-busting sale price are high as Abakanowicz’s work is enjoying heightened interest at the moment. 

Expectations for a record-busting sale price are high as Abakanowicz’s work is enjoying heightened interest at the moment. Kalbar/TFN

Underscoring this is the recent announcement by London’s Tate Modern that it will host an exhibition of the artist’s work next year. 

Another factor adding to its value is that for most of its life it was owned by late comedian Robin Williams and his wife Martha. 

Dancer with Finger on her Chin’ by Antonio Canova.Kalbar/TFN

“The figures stood in the Williams’ garden and they were outside for the whole time,” said Agata Szkup, head of sales at Desa Unicum told TFN.

“Abakanowicz visited the Williams to see how the figures had been arranged and a strong relationship developed between the artist and the Williams family,” she added.

'A year ago the artist's work in London achieved nearly PLN 26 million, two years ago another work cost almost PLN 20 million,' says Jan Koszutski. Kalbar/TFN

Martha Williams fell in love with Abakanowicz’s work when she was an art student in New York and always dreamed of owning one of her pieces. 

The collection she built with her late husband is one of the most prestigious private, modern art collections and included work by Banksy and Max Ernst. 

Evidence that the sculptures stood for many years in the Williams’ garden can be seen in the sand that still sits between the toes of several of the figures. 

Canova is considered one of the greatest sculptors of all time and was the court artist of the Venetian aristocracy and the Vatican. Kalbar/TFN

Abakanowicz created the set of bronze, headless figures in 1999, and after they were cast in a renowned foundry in Boulogne they were bought by the Williams in the same year. 

The artist said of the sculptures: “They are negatives of volume, like bark that has fallen off a tree, like a shroud that preserved a mummy.” 

Also on display at Desa Unicum and expected to break records is the 19th-century marble sculpture ‘Dancer with Finger on her Chin’ by Antonio Canova. 

The works of art are on display at the Desa Unicum gallery in Warsaw.Kalbar/TFN

Though not a Polish work of art, it is expected to break the price record for any work of art sold in Poland. 

This is not the first time that Canova’s sculpture has come up for sale in Poland. Jan Koszutski, deputy president at Desa Unicum said that “in 2006 it sold for over PLN 1.3 million and set a price record for sculpture in Poland.

“Now its value is estimated at PLN 8 million. A year ago the artist's work in London achieved nearly PLN 26 million, two years ago another work cost almost PLN 20 million,” he added. 

Canova is considered one of the greatest sculptors of all time and was the court artist of the Venetian aristocracy and the Vatican. 

He was invited to work at the court if Catherine the Great, but he refused. He also made sculptures for Napoleon. 

The captivating ‘Dancer’ dates back to 1806-15 and comes from the collection of Witold Tadeusz Czartoryski, and earlier Izabella Czartoryska. Only two of his works can be seen in Poland: in Kraków and Łańcut.