NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Jeff Koons' iconic "Pink Panther" sculpture is hitting the auction block in May and could sell for as much as $30 million, which would be a record for the artist, Sotheby's said on Friday.
The 1988 porcelain sculpture of a semi-naked blonde woman cuddling a large pink panther toy is the artist's proof from an edition of only three, according to the auction house.
The others are in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art and a private U.S. collection.
It is expected to be one of the highlights of Sotheby's contemporary art auction on May 10.
"Pink Panther is one of the most outstanding achievements of Jeff Koons' illustrious career. It is immediately identifiable as a masterpiece not only of the artist's historic canon, but also of the epoch of recent Contemporary Art," said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art about the vibrant pink-and-yellow work.
The record for a Koons is $25.7 million, set when "Balloon Flower (Magenta)" was sold in June 2008 on the eve of the financial crisis that sent art market prices tumbling.
Lucian Freud holds the auction record for a work by a living artist, with $33.6 million for "Benefits Supervisor Sleeping," also set in spring 2008.
Sotheby's said the work from Koons' "Banality" series combines his themes of materiality and artificiality, eroticism and naivety, pop culture and rarefied elitism.
Other pieces from the "Banality" series include "Michael Jackson and Bubbles," "Bear and Policeman" and "Ushering in Banality."
The pink panther character was first introduced during the credits of the 1963 Peter Sellers film of the same name, in which the actor played the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. The title refers to a pink diamond that figures in the plot.
Later the lanky animated character was featured in a television show that became a staple in U.S. households with children, leading to widespread licensing for everything from toys to breakfast cereal.
The "Pink Panther" edition in private hands was bought at Christie's in 1999 for $1.8 million, which at the time set an auction record for Koons.
Sotheby's declined to identify the seller of the work, but published reports said it was German publisher and art collector Benedikt Taschen, known for oversized books on such figures as Muhammad Ali and Helmut Newton.