The buyer of one of the most high-profile lots at the New York auctions in May has been revealed.
Alice Walton, heir to the Wal-Mart fortune and an ARTnews “Top 200 Collector” since 2005, is reportedly the purchaser of Robert Rauschenberg’s silkscreen work Buffalo II (1964), which shattered the artist’s previous record ($18.6 million) when the painting sold for $88.8 million at Christie’s last month in New York. The news was first reported by Jeremy Hodkin’s Canvas newsletter.
When Buffalo II came up for auction, it triggered a heated 20-minute bidding war. Within that period, it quickly surpassed its low estimate of $50 million, then its high estimate of $70 million, and eventually went to Sara Friedlander, the house’s international director and head of the postwar and contemporary, who, the Canvas said, was working with Walton, for a hammer price of $78 million.
Walton is the founder of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. She has bought some of the most notable modern and contemporary artworks to have come up for auction in recent years, including Georgia O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, which set the record for the most expensive work by a female artist in 2014 at $44.4 milllon. (Canvas noted that Crystal Bridges declined to comment on Walton’s personal collection, which is separate from the museum’s permanent holdings. A spokesperson also said it had not been acquired for the museum.)
Rauschenberg created Buffalo II months after the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. An appropriated image of Kennedy from when he was still a junior senator from Massachusetts looms large in the upper right section of the mostly blue-toned composition, as do other distinctly American images—a bald eagle, Coca-Cola logo, a Huey helicopter used in Vietnam. The work had originally been a part of the collection of the Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer family, which acquired it directly from the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1965.