Auction Report: Sotheby's and Phillips Deliver Solid Results in Contemporary Sales
Both auction houses came through with the kind of results necessary to continue the momentum of the week and bring the type of success needed to get by in the current market.
The night began at Phillips which achieved a total of $113.9 million for its sale, falling directly between its estimate of $90 and $123.5 million dollars, and boasting a superb 96 percent sell-through rate. The undoubted story of the evening was Pablo Picasso's "Portrait de femme endormie III", a work on paper which ended up selling for $9.3 million dollars (almost nine times its estimate). The top lot of the night was Peter Doig's "Red House" which sold for $21.1 million dollars.
Things were a bit more interesting (but not by much) at Sotheby's headquarters on York Avenue. With the sale starting slightly late due to people making their way from Phillips, the house ended up with a total of $310.2 million on the night (between its estimate of $250 and $343 million) but also came through with a very impressive 96% sell-through rate.
An untitled piece by Laura Owens was clearly underpriced and ended up selling for $1.75 million (vs the estimate of $200,000-$300,000). However, the house's top lots didn't garner nearly as much excitement. Andy Warhol's "Mao" sold for $32.4 million (against a low estimate of $30 million), Francis Bacon's "Three Studies of George Dyer" ended up selling for $36.8 million (against a low estimate of $35 million), and a Jean Dubuffet which was estimated to sell for between $12-$18 million was a pass.
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In Our Humble Opinion: While it may be a cliche to say at this point, the sale of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' at Christie's on Wednesday night will undoubtedly go down as a seminal moment in art world history. With everyone from insiders like Brett Gorvy to know-nothings such as Seth Rogen offering an opinion on the famous canvas, it's clear that we are now living in a post 'Salvator Mundi' world. However, what exactly a post 'Salvator Mundi' world looks like, remains unclear.
Despite the sky being seemingly limitless for a work of art with a enough name-brand recognition and savvy marketing prowess behind it, there were troubling signs at both Christie's and Sotheby's this past week. Both houses relied on non-traditional inclusions in their post-war & contemporary sales in order too goose fees and attract attention (Leonardo's piece for Christie's and Michael Schumacher's Formula 1 Ferrari for Sotheby's).
And even though all the sales this past week boasted solid sell-through rates, the prices (and consequently the demand) didn't appear to be particularly strong for a number of name-brand lots that were expected to sell for eye-catching sums. Francis Bacon's "Three Studies of George Dyer" sold at the low end of its estimate to a single bidder. And the same was true for Andy Warhol's "Mao".
Indeed, the market for Basquiats seemed particularly tepid. After Christie's failed to sell its lot from the artist on Wednesday night, another was promptly withdrawn from Sotheby's sale on Thursday evening. And the ones that did manage to find buyers ended up selling at the low end of their estimates. We have to wonder what Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa's currently has going through his mind after he paid $110 million for his prized Basquiat at Sotheby's last spring.
In the end though, there can be no disputing the overall strength of the week. The auction houses relied on fewer in-house and third-party guarantees, demand was strong for a number of works priced under $15 million, sell-through rates were particularly impressive, and a few prized pieces garnered outsized success.
Every once in a while, the unimaginable happens and perspectives change as a result. For us in the art world, Wednesday night was just such a moment. The fact that someone paid nearly half a billion dollars for a work of art will forever change how art is valued and perceived. Auctions will still go on, hammers will still be brought down, and art will still be bought, but we will perhaps never witness a moment quite like Wednesday night again in our lifetime.
As always, we've included links to some of the other recaps from last night's sales. Check out Brian Boucher's piece covering Sotheby's for Artnet, Henri Neuendorf writing about Phillips also for Artnet, Nate Freeman with his usual coverage of Sotheby's on ArtNews, and Andrew Russeth describing the scene at Phillips for ArtNews.
The fine folks at Artsy produced a timely podcast unpacking and detailing the sordid sexual harassment allegations that have recently been careening through the art world. Listen here to Isaac Kaplan, Abigail Cain, Anna Louie Sussman, and Tess Thackara.
Brian Boucher at Artnet published this delightful compilation of the 21 best social media reactions to Christie's 'Salvator Mundi' sale. Enjoy!
Wednesday night was the annual Guggenheim International Gala. Was your invite lost in the mail? Ours too. Have no fear, you can click through all the glossy pictures on the BFA website and stalk which art-world insiders made the cut to hobnob with the likes of actress Kate Mara, Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste, and the Haim sisters.
Check out Roberta Smith's rave review for the Laura Owens mid-career survey at the Whitney in today's New York Times.
Openings & Current Exhibitions: Museum Edition
Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait at the Museum of Modern Art
Laura Owens at the Whitney Museum of American Art
Joseph Albers in Mexico at the Guggenheim
Bidsquare presents Palm Beach Modern Auctions featuring Modern Art, Design and Luxury Goods on November 25. Three Sam Francis original artworks lead the sale. Additional highlights include a distinguished Miami collection of early, exotic Murano glass purchased directly from artists; prized Pablo Picasso pottery; rare furnishings and a highly select offering of fine jewelry. Sought after Mid-century furniture in the sale includes George Nakashima pieces previously purchased directly from Nakashima studio in 1952. “Very occasionally a sale will fall into place like this one, where there’s strength in every category and scores of exciting artworks that haven’t appeared in the auction marketplace before,” said Rico Baca, Co-owner of Palm Beach Modern Auctions. “There’s something wonderful at every turn.” Visit Bidsquare to browse the catalog and register to bid live online or place your absentee bids on Bidsquare.
The Canvas will next appear during Art Basel Miami Beach on December 6th (VIP day). In the meantime, feel free to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org for any tips, comments, or feedback you want us to incorporate in our next editions.