Anyone wanting to take home a piece of Dewey & LeBoeuf may soon be able to.
In a court filing made Friday, the defunct law firm’s legal team requested bankruptcy court approval to hire an auctioneer in order to sell off the art that once adorned Dewey’s office walls. The Dewey estate estimates that the collection holds as many as 870 pieces worth a total of $2.3 million, according to the filing, though the current status of each piece and its value is still being determined.
Dewey’s advisers propose hiring Adam A. Weschler & Son, Inc., to appraise the work and preside over a series of private auctions, with the work sold free and clear of any liens, claims, and encumbrances.
Washington, D.C.–based Weschler beat out several auctioneers from whom Dewey solicited offers by presenting “terms more favorable” that its competitors, according to the Friday filing. Dewey hopes to hold an auction for works worth between $500 and $2,000 by the end of this year, followed by weekly auctions for works valued below $500 apiece and a single auction in the first quarter of 2013 for any pieces valued at more than $2,000.
For its trouble, Weschler will earn a commission based on the strength of the sales—between 4 percent and 10 percent, depending on the total sum collected—with Dewey pitching in $25 per piece for processing and additional money for shipping. Some of the money earned from the sales will go directly to repaying companies from which Dewey leased art. In Friday’s filing, Dewey’s advisers say they determined it was easier to repay the lessors with cash than try to identify and ship back the art the firm leased. (Thomas Weschler, named in the filings as the primary contact at the auction house, was on vacation Monday and unavailable for comment.)
Martin Gammon, vice president of business development at Bonhams, said Tuesday that his company was approached to handle the Dewey sale but determined the majority of the art was not valuable enough—only a handful of items appeared to be worth more than $1,500—to hold a successful auction.
Gammon says many law firms, including Dewey, turn to modern and contemporary art, often produced by local artists, to outfit office space. The trouble with that approach, says Gammon, is that “for better or worse, high-end auctions only deal with artists who have been sold before. If they don’t have a track record, nobody knows the market level, and the art has to be sold at a modest target price.”
Court filings submitted to the bankruptcy court in July offer details of the hundreds of pieces in Dewey’s collection. Several appear to be local depictions of the New York area, including “Early Morning Central Park” (pastel on paper), “South Street From Maiden Lane 1828″ (color printed aquatint), and “Long Island East” (acrylic on nautical chart). Many others have titles that conjure similarly pastoral images, such as “Bird and Fan” (watercolor), “Grass” (pastel on paper), and “Magical Pond” (monoprint).
A few years back, Gammon helped Bonhams handle the sale of art from now-defunct Heller Ehrman. The San Francisco–based law firm had several pieces that could fetch decent prices at auction, Gammon says, but the majority of the firm’s art sold at a so-called no-reserve sale, at which no minimum price is set.
“To be perfectly honest, a number of artists and galleries bought back their own work,” says Gammon, who appears regularly on the PBS program Antiques Roadshow, of the Heller sale. Legal blog Above the Law covered Heller’s New York and San Francisco art sales in 2009 and 2010, even trying (unsuccessfully) to buy several items. At the time, Bonhams issued a press release saying that the San Francisco auction doubled expectations, with the sales of 340 sculptures, paintings, and photographs bringing in more than $572,000.
Following Marc Dreier’s conviction for fraud and the subsequent implosion of his law firm, Dreier LLP, in 2009, the U.S. Marshals Service commissioned auctions of Dreier-owned art to help repay those he bilked. The marshals service is responsible for managing and selling properties seized by the government that are acquired by criminals through illegal activities, according to its website. No one was available from the marshal’s office Monday to comment on the ultimate amount collected from the sale of Dreier’s art.
Another bankrupt law firm, Howrey, also appears to be readying itself for an art auction. Court filings made last spring showed that Howrey’s lawyers have met with appraisers to value the firm’s art work, which earlier filings pegged at having a total value of $1.2 million.
A hearing for U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn to consider Dewey’s motion is scheduled for October 30 at 2 p.m.