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NYC Art Dealer Finds Paintings Worth Millions in Storage Locker

“Life is full of luck, like getting dealt a good hand, or simply by being in the right place at the right time. Some people get luck handed to them, a second chance, and a save. It can happen heroically,”Jessica Sorensen

A New York art dealer discovered a hidden treasure locked away in a storage facility in New Jersey. David Killen who is a gallery owner uncovered six paintings by the Dutch-American abstract Master Willem de Kooning, which if verified could be worth tens of millions of dollars.

The works were part of a stash of artworks that languished in a storage locker in New Jersey until the dealer offered $15,000 for the lot.

Killen is confident that a painting by the legendary Swiss modernist Paul Klee is also among the artistic flotsam.

A de Kooning canvas, "Untitled XXV", sold for a record $66.3 million (€56.7 million) at Christie's in 2016, while another one sold privately for a reported $300 million in 2015 — as part of a $500 million sale that included a Jackson Pollock painting.

David Killen says he has been flooded with offers from around the world to purchase a trove of paintings he found in the storage locker.

Killen estimates the discovered works could sell for between $10,000 and $10 million when they will be auctioned late this year and early next year. He had unveiled the paintings at a party in New York.

The dealer thought the works might pad out his fortnightly auctions and it was only when they were being unloaded that he saw what he believes are de Kooning paintings.

The artworks came from the studio of Orrin Riley, a well-known art restorer who died in 1986 and left everything to his wife Susanne Schnitzler before she passed away in 2009.

After her executors in New Jersey spent years trying to find the rightful owners of the artworks, the 200 pieces were left in the storage.

The dealer said that all he knew was other auction house passed on it, so his feeling was it was just a bunch of junk, said Killen.

"All these things are boxed up. He said, 'Look, I'll give you $15,000 for it. I'll take a chance,'" he answered. While the paintings are not signed, Killen has sought the opinion of a restorer who also believes they are genuine.

"I can see in his eyes, he's shaking," Killen told AFP. "He said 'this is exactly what de Kooning was doing in the '70s, one after the other.'"

Art conserver Lawrence Castagna says he "absolutely" believes the six oil-on-paper works to be de Koonings, but added that it's "just my opinion. “I’m just blown away by the whole discovery to tell you the truth," he told AFP.

Killen says that the promise of multi-million dollar sales is not the only bonus from the unexpected find. "I'm excited. Believe it or not — and people will laugh when they hear this — it's not about the money. I want some publicity for my auction house," he said.

Willem De Kooning was born in the Netherlands in 1904 and moved to the US in the late 1920s before leading an American abstract expressionist movement in the 1950s. He died in 1997 at the age of 92.

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