Sotheby’s sells the stars and stripes

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A 1983 Flag work by Jasper John hits the New York auctions in November

Jasper Johns’s Flag has been owned by the same collector since it was acquired from the artist in 1983

Sotheby’s is appealing to patriotic Americans and art fans alike with the sale of Jasper John’s Flag, 1983, at its New York auctions on 11 November. Estimated to sell for between $15m to $20m, this small work, measuring 11.5 x 17 inches, has been in the same hands since it was acquired from the artist in 1983.

Despite the fact that Sotheby’s recently hiked its borrowing capacity for guarantees from $300m to $600m in August (for the second time in 14 months, following a rise from $100m to $300m in June 2013), Flag is not guaranteed. The deal was done the old-fashioned way, says Anthony Grant, Sotheby’s Vice Chairman, Americas: “What happens in our business is that collectors become close friends, and this work comes from a very close friend of mine. Sotheby’s was without competition.”

The collectors “obviously know guarantees exist but they were clear about having none of it. With guarantees, a certain amount of the upside goes to the guarantor, and if Flag sells well—which it will—they want the full benefit of the public sale of a work they’ve owned for 30 years, without another party involved,” Grant says.

The silk flag used in the work only has 48 stars, rather than the current 50, adopted when Alaska and Hawaii joined the union. Johns probably chose that version “because it was the longest flag in use in American history—47 years, spanning two wars and eight presidents,” Grant says.

Flag is currently on show in a preview in Los Angeles that ends today, and will travel to Hong Kong and London before hitting the block in Manhattan on 11 November. Sotheby’s has not quite completed the rest of the catalogue for the evening sale on 11 November, though Grant says to expect a “very American sale. It’s classical,” with works by artists including Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn and Robert Ryman.

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