Christie's and Phillips Contemporary Art Evening Sales

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming...


The Canvas launched one year ago in May of 2017 to coincide with Frieze New York. Since then, we've published throughout the weeks of the major fairs and auction sales around the world, have grown to almost 14,000 subscribers (including some of the biggest collectors and dealers in the world), and have strived to stay true to our core mission of bringing our readers the most relevant art industry news in an engaging (and somewhat saucy) format. 

As we head into our second year, we will continue to publish during the major fairs and auctions as we feel that those weeks are when the highest concentration of art world news is taking place. Ideally (and somewhat selfishly) we would also like The Canvas to actually bring in money as well.So if you're a gallery looking to promote a show or booth at an upcoming fair, a museum looking to advertise an exhibition or blockbuster retrospective, or a brand with a product or service relevant to the fine art industry, then by all means please get in touch with us.    

In that vain though- and as we mentioned in yesterday's edition of The Canvas- we're strongly considering launching a paid subscription offering as well. Many of you voted in our poll and the response was overwhelmingly positive. We can't begin to put into words how much our hearts were warmed by this reaction. But before we jump in head first like Steve Wynn starting a second career as an art dealer (Come again?), we would very much appreciate it if we could have more of our readers take part in the anonymous poll below and share their valued opinion. 

The paid subscription offering would be aimed at our readers who work in the industry and are looking for substantive news and analysis of the trends sweeping the art world on a monthly basis. It would consist of a monthly report (we're thinking about ten pages long) of highly detailed sales information, news about artist and estate representations, the latest trends in marketing for the industry, leading fair, auction, and exhibition practices, exclusive job listings, and would feature guest writers from some of the top galleries, fairs, auction houses, PR firms, and collectors in New York, London, and LA. You'd recognize the names- we promise. It would still be written in the same fun, sassy tone as the rest of The Canvas's coverage but would be aimed at readers looking for more substantive and detailed analysis of what's working (and not working) in the industry and what your competitors are up to and thinking on a month-to-month basis. 

It would cost approximately $20 per month (billed monthly or annually at a discount) and is squarely aimed at our many readers who work at galleries, auction houses, fairs, PR firms, and art advisory companies. We would really appreciate you taking the five seconds or so to click the 'yes' or 'no' buttons (we think they're pretty self-explanatory) to let us know if you'd be interested in what we detailed above. And feel free to email us at if you'd like to share specific thoughts and feedback on this new idea or be involved in any way. 

Please take a moment and let us know if you'd be interested in such an offering. We'd genuinely appreciate hearing from you. 

YES              NO


"Alex, are you texting?"

That question was posed by Christie’s global president and auctioneer for last night's sale, Jussi Pylkkanen, to Alex Rotter, co-chairman of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art department amidst lively bidding for Francois-Xavier Lalanne's The Mayersdorff Bar which ended up selling for $4.57 million (against an estimate of $2.2 million–$2.8 million). Indeed he was texting. And The Canvas has a lot to say on the matter in the section below. But first we'll begin with some of the other highlights from the salesrooms at Christie's and Phillips last night. 

In what is surely a good sign for David Zwirner and his behemoth of a gallery which recently took on exclusive representation of the artist's foundation, Joan Mitchell’s Blueberry sold for a record smashing $16.6 million (against an estimate of $5 million–$7 million).

Brett Gorvy (of increasingly powerhouse gallery, Lévy Gorvy) walked away with Steve Wynn's Andy Warhol, Double Elvis (Ferus Type) for the cool price of $37 million on behalf of a private buyer. Gorvy seemed to be everywhere this week; having already purchased the Malevich work, Suprematist Composition for $85.8 million at Christie's Impressionist & Modern sale Tuesday evening, and was locked in a bidding war with (and ultimately prevailing against) his gallery partner, Dominique Levy for Richard Diebenkorn's Ocean Park #126 which ended up selling for $23.9 million (against an estimate of $16 million- $20 million). 

The top sale of the evening was Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait which was the subject of intense bidding from three phone bidders and ended up selling to Renato Pennisi's bidder for $49.8 million (against an estimate on request in the range of $30 million). 

Overall the evening was a success for Christie's, even though the sale lacked some of the buzz and sparks from the previous night at arch-rival Sotheby'sJussi Pylkkanen led the evening with his usual charm and wit (and an increasingly evident sense of self-awareness) and should be lauded for steering the room through a night that could have easily gone much worse due to the withdrawn Picasso from Steve Wynn's collection. Ultimately the sale brought in a strong $397.1 million with a buy-in rate by lot of 9% (six out of the 64 lots on offer failed to sell) and set auction records for seven artists. 

The scene over at Phillips was slightly more uneven. Two works by Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke failed to sell (both were estimated to go for $12 million- $18 million) and were like massive bursts of oxygen being sucked out of the room when they were passed. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Flexible was the top lot of the evening and sold for an impressive $45.3 million (against an estimate of $20 million- $30 million) with Jeffrey Deitch rumored to be the underbidder. 

All in all the night was a success for the perennially third place auction house. The sale totaled $131.6 million and only three out of the 36 lots failed to sell- although the two works The Canvas mentioned above left gaping holes in the night's proceedings. Ultimately The Canvas feels that Phillips could have faired better if the specialists and their marketing department took a page or two out of the play-books of its more established rivals, and had done a better job of contextualizing certain works in order to increase demand (like the Kerry James Marshall work, Untitled, (Blanket Couple) which sold for $4.34 million). And of course, The Canvas has more to say on this subject in the section below. 

In the meantime, check out the recaps of the Christie's auction from Judd Tully for ArtNewsEileen Kinsella for Artnet, and Scott Reyburn for the New York Times. Sarah Hanson and Gabriella Angeleti produced joint coverage for The Art Newspaper of the Christie's and Phillips sales. And Annie Armstrong wrote the coverage of the Phillips sale for ArtNews. 

The Canvas's Three Major Takeaways 

1Alex Rotter was indeed communicating with a bidder via text. And while The Canvas doesn't know who the bidder was- and wouldn't necessarily bet our own money on his or her identity- we would bet a large portion of some of Larry Gagosian's money that he or she was relatively young. Rotter and Loic Gouzer (or 'The Bad Boys of Christie's' as they're affectionately referred to by The Canvas) have done a superb job in cultivating younger buyers in their thirties and forties over the last few years. Their competitors at Sotheby's and Phillips (and even in-house at Christie's) should all take note and look to them as examples of how to best reach an increasingly young buyer pool.

They adroitly use Instagram to give people a glimpse into their lives and showcase works that are coming up for sale. They've developed personas that are easily recognizable to prospective collectors and make them feel comfortable enough to trust their advice and help navigate them through waters that are thoroughly unfamiliar to all but the most experienced of buyers. And while for the foreseeable future there will still be plenty of old-school septuagenarian and octogenarian collectors to sell to, the three major auction houses (and the galleries and fairs for that matter) should all place a priority in appealing to younger collectors who might soon be inheriting the estates of their parents.

Think about Brett Gorvy- arguably the biggest winner of this past week. Before decamping from Christie's in 2016 to partner with Dominique Levy, he had built up a huge following on Instagram (now numbering approximately 95,000) and uses his account to showcase works of art (often with a musical or poetic captions) to his avid following. Whether any of his big-ticket sales has stemmed directly from his savvy use of social media or not (and we hope to ask him soon), it's hard to argue with his recent success. 

2. There were rumblings that last night's sale at Christie's seemed to have noticeably less buzz than the prior night at Sotheby's. The Canvas feels that much of the excitement in the salesroom Wednesday night stemmed from the donation of five works of art from artists of color to help benefit The Studio Museum in Harlem's building campaign. The lots were stacked at the beginning of the sale (after the Mandel collection was offered separately beforehand) and many of those pieces sparked the fiercest bidding.

Between those works and the Kerry James Marshall painting that sold for approximately $21million later in the evening, you could practically feel the realignment of historically under-appreciated African American artists taking place within the room. Of course, it didn't hurt to have Thelma GoldenSwizz Beatz, and other notable names (did we spot Leo?) interspersed throughout the crowd to help lend the evening a feeling of excitement and exhilaration. Perhaps including a popular charity component and courting additional celebrities to attend in person can be a strategy replicated by all three houses in the future?  

3. There is no excuse for Christie's not to provide multiple camera angles through its online video portable to viewers who want to watch the sale from the comfort of their own homes (as The Canvas did last night). Both Sotheby's and Phillips pivot between viewing the auctioneer, the various specialists working the phones, and a wide angle view of the room as a whole, and there's no excuse for Christie's not engaging in the same practice as well (especially since they're already filming the sale with multiple cameras anyway). 

As The Canvas mentioned above, everyone in the business of selling art needs to do a better job of reaching younger buyers. Making the sales viewable to wider audiences (and truly biddable in real-time) should be a priority as well. The best auctioneers this past week were the ones who brought joy, humor, wit, and a dry self-awarness to the sales. Auctions are entertaining to watch; replete with all the drama, disappointments, and staggering sums of money that could very easily capture people's attention. All three auction houses need to do a better job of injecting the night with more narrative storytelling. Contextualize the lots on offer and why they're important works in and of themselves. Christie's and Sotheby's does a better job of this with their video programs than Phillips does, but there's room for improvement all around. 

Five Final Gallery Shows to See This Week

Oscar Tuazon at Luhring Augustine

Matthew Brannon at Casey Kaplan

Lucy Skaer at Peter Freeman, Inc

Jorinde Voigt at David Nolan Gallery  

TOMÁS SARACENO at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery


The Canvas's New Instagram

The Canvas promises to bring you the all the glitz and glamor from the international party circuit when we resume publishing throughout the week of Art Basel. 

Until then, we highly encourage you to follow us on our newly launched Instagram account for insider access to the New York art world. We'll be posting pictures of some of the art that has sold over the last week (along with the sales price), videos and pictures from the shows we're seeing before we head to the Continent, and other wry observations on the news in this crazy industry we work in (Again, Steve Wynn is starting a gallery?!?).

We invite you to follow our Instagram account here.