The 2017 Spring Auctions: Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Evening Sale- May 17th Edition

Auction Report: Slightly Sleepy at Sotheby's  

In today's world of guarantees and other legal and financial hedges against failure, it's rare to see an auction scrape by with just the low estimate, but that's exactly what happened last night at Sotheby's, where the hammer total of $149.2 million found itself uncomfortably close to the $147 million low estimate in an Impressionist and Modern sale that might have gone as high as $210.4 million.

Most of this can be attributed to the 11th hour withdrawal of the auction's cover lot, Egon Schiele's "Danae" (1902), set to sell for between $30 million and $40 million. That void made a big difference: optics are obviously a large part of the sales and every story about Christie's the night before praised its Brâncuși as having saved an otherwise dreary night.

The loss of the big ticket item seemed to be felt in the moment too at Sotheby's, where bidding in the room was limited with just the occasional, standard Nahmad family inflation; on Giogrio Morandi's "Natura Morta" (Still Life) (1953) whcih hammered for $950,000 over a high estimate of $800,000 and on Georges Braque's "La Pianiste" (1937), which hammered for $6.1 million, squeaking past a low estimate of $6 million.

Counterpoints: $149.2 million, $173.8 million with premium, is no small amount of money, no matter how much of it they gave away. And there was no guarantee on the evening's top lot Kazimir Malevich's "Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection" (1915), which hammered just above its high estimate at $18.2 million after significant, prolonged bidding (albeit between just a few bidders).

It should be interesting to see how Sotheby's stock price (NYSE: BID) fares throughout the day. Although rumor has it that even without the Schiele cover lot, the house was able to walk away with a $15-$20 million gross profit for the night. 

News & Links

Trump Is Corrupt? You Don't Say! Carolina Miranda interviews Robin Bell, the artist who briefly projected PAY TRUMP BRIBES HERE over the entrance to the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. on Monday night. “This double-decker tour bus pulls up to the Trump hotel and everyone starts taking photos and clapping and people are cheering us.” The whole thing went viral, which, if you like art is a mixed bag. It's good because it gets people thinking about art, but not great because it's not very good art. [LA Times]

Where the Rich Build a Consensus ICYMI, James Tarmy has a great wind-down on Venice wherein he says that its real significance is as a place where the collectors decide which names will be bandied about as must-owns in the coming years. "[W]hereas Documenta is often inscrutably avant-garde, and art fairs are by definition strictly commercial, Venice manages to find a sweet spot somewhere between the two." Don't get left behind. [Bloomberg]

A Theoretical Windfall The U.K.'s Labour Party published its manifesto Tuesday which includes a promise of £1 billion for a new Cultural Capital Fund “to upgrade our existing cultural and creative infrastructure to be ready for the digital age”. That's pretty impressive in an international context, given that the proposed budget from Donald Trump (lol) proposes doing away with the National Endowment for the Arts altogether. Not that it matters, since Labour's going to lose. [The Art Newspaper]


Extra Reading

As usual, you can find more detailed recaps from last night's Sotheby's Imp/Mod auction by Nate Freeman for ArtNews here, Judd Tully over at ArtInfo here, Bryan Boucher at Artnet here, Sarah Hanson for The Art Newspaper here, and Kelly Crow for the Wall Street Journal here. Or you can check out Sotheby's own recap complete with a digital slideshow (although to be honest, it's a bit of a let-down after Christie's delivered a fully produced video for their Imp/Mod recap). 

Abby Bangser, the artistic director of Frieze Art Fairs for the Americas and Asia is heading over to the Dia Arts Foundation in the newly created position of Deputy Director of Strategic Initiatives. Andy Battaglia has the full story over at ArtNews. Congrats! 

Robin Pogrebin gives an insider account of what it's like to cover an auction for the paper of record in the New York Times 'Times Insider' section. (Spoiler- sandwiches are involved). 

Check out Bloomberg's on-camera interview with Phillips CEO, Edward Dolman conducted by Emma Chandra.  


Mark Ryden at Paul Kasmin on May 20th

Chung Sang-Hwa at Levy Gorvy (London) on May 24th

Daniel Buren at Bortolami on May 13th

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