Dewey have art to sell off? Over at Am Law Daily, Sara Randazzo reports on the latest news regarding Dewey’s collection:

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.

That works out to a perfectly respectable $3,000 or so per piece. We’re not talking Picasso, but we’re also not talking college dorm room posters.

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.

Buying a piece of art from the Dewey collection sounds like a great way for associates to spend their year-end bonuses. And if the amounts this year are similar to last year’s, even a first-year associate will be able to find something, especially in the “below $2,000″ category.

What type of works reside in the Dewey collection?

[Martin] Gammon [of the Bonhams auction house] 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).

Very evocative titles. “Grass” is what some Dewey partners and leaders must have been smoking in the weeks leading up to the firm’s fall. As for that “Magical Pond,” maybe it’s where all the money disappeared to? Let’s dredge it and see what we can find.

There is, sadly, ample precedent for defunct law firms selling their art at auction. Am Law Daily reports:

“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.

Even though we got outbid on everything we went for, we still enjoyed attending the Heller Ehrman art auction. If a Dewey auction does take place — the firm first needs the approval of Judge Martin Glenn — we will definitely be there, both to report on the proceedings and to buy a piece of Biglaw history.

Probe of Dewey’s Collapse Intensifies [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) via Morning Docket]
Investigation of Dewey & LeBoeuf Collapse Heats Up [WSJ Law Blog]
Going Once, Going Twice: Dewey Art Making Its Way to Auction Block [Am Law Daily (sub. req.)]
DA’s Dewey Probe Heats Up; ‘Major Focus’ Is on Statements Made to Lenders [ABA Journal]

Earlier: ATL Field Trip: The Heller Ehrman Art Auction
Update: Heller Ehrman Art Auction Exceeds Expectations


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