Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Sale

"I Don't Need to Tell You How Great This Is"

Those were the words uttered by Sotheby's Oliver Barker to David Zwirner just before he brought the gavel down on Kerry James Marshall'spainting, "Past Timesfor a record breaking $21.1 million (blowing past its initial $8 million estimate). And while the words were clearly meant to invoke the historical importance of a new record being set for for any work by a living African-American artist (and because Zwirner shows Marshall's work), they can also be applied to the night as a whole. 

In a delightfully stark contrast to the sepulchral tone of the house's Impressionist & Modern art sale a few nights prior, Sotheby's experienced a resounding success for its Contemporary art evening sale last night. With the sale of the collection of Morton and Barbara Mandel taking place directly before and achieving White Glove status (100% of the lots sold), there was a tremendous amount of momentum leading into the main attractions for the night.

The first five paintings of the main sale were all donated by artists to benefit the new Studio Museum in Harlem building designed by Sir David Adjaye. Thelma Golden was in the room and the general consensus was that she's just as much of a celebrity as Swizz Beatz who ended up winning Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s painting, "An Assistance of Amberfor $550,000 (all prices include the buyer's premium). Tantalizingly, he told Artsy's Nate Freeman that the KJM was “going to my friend’s house.” And as Sarah Hanson (of The Art Newspaper) noted, "before the sale Brett Gorvy, the co-founder of Lévy Gorvy gallery, had posted a photo on Instagram of the rapper P. Diddy 'looking carefully' at Marshall's Past Time and Jean-Michel Basquiat's Flesh and Spirit. 'Good luck, Mr Diddy' Gorvy wrote, leading to speculation that the rapper may have been bidding." 

Barker did a superb job throughout the evening; expertly leading the sale at a brisk and efficient pace, while soliciting interest from multiple bidders both in the room and on the phones. It was clearly a savvy choice to allow bidding in increments as small as $25,000 on some lots as it kept the momentum flowing from one artwork to the next. Also proving to be a smart choice was the collective decision by the Contemporary department to keep the estimates on the relatively low side, thereby beating expectations on a number of lots. There was repeated applause throughout the evening (although a fair amount seemed to be initiated by the Sotheby's specialists themselves) proving that it's less about the price of any given work that spurs such reactions, and more about an appreciation for sustained, deep interest by multiple parties engaged in a bidding war that's representative of- and endemic to- a healthy market.

The night wasn't without some missteps though, and The Canvas would be remiss not to mention them. Last year's record breaking sale of Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Untitled" from 1982 that sold to Yusaku Maezawa for $110.48 million is proving more and more to be a bizarre aberration rather than a sustained trend for the artist's market. The Basquiat on offer last night (from the estate of the late Dolores Ormandy Neumann) sold to relatively little interest for $30.7 million. And while it did have some minor legal issues in its provenance (which The Canvas told you about during Frieze), other Basquiats have been sold at the November auctions and at Art Basel Miami Beach and Art Basel Hong Kong, with none having reached anywhere near the stratospheric levels of last year's May sale. And even though Maezawa's Basquiat is historically important and visually stimulating (that eye-popping blue is to die for), it's hard to argue that its price was justified. 

Overall though, the night was an undisputed success. The two sales (the Mandel collection and the full Contemporary sale) netted a total of $391 million overall (including fees and premiums). And of the 75 lots on offer (after the withdrawal of a Wesselmann work) 72 found buyers. In addition to Sarah Hanson's recap for The Art Newspaper above, Judd Tully has his usual thorough recap for ArtNewsEileen Kinsella and Tim Schneider teamed up for their play-by-play for Artnet, and Scott Reyburn has a full report for the New York Times

All are worth the read in order to hear about the 1969 Mark Rothko that sold for $18.8 million (against an estimate of $7 million–$10 million), David Hockney's "Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monicawhich sold for $28.4 million (against an estimate of $20-30 million), Mark Bradford's"Speak, Birdman" selling for $6.8 million (against an estimate of $2 million–$3 million), and Jackson Pollock's "Number 32, 1949" which sold for $34 million (against an estimate of $30 million–$40 million). 


Something We've Been Thinking About


We at The Canvas are strongly considering launching a subscription offering aimed at our readers who are looking for substantive news and analysis of the industry and market on a monthly basis. 

The monthly report would be in addition to our fair and auction coverage that takes place throughout the year and would feature guest writers from leading galleries, fairs, auction houses, PR firms, and collectors. You'd recognize the names- we promise. 

It would still be written in the same fun, sassy tone as the rest of The Canvas (we you know you love us), but would place a greater emphasis on the trends shaping the market, the marketing techniques being used to great effect, exclusive job listings, and more detailed analysis of the sales and changes in artist representation taking place throughout the year. 

It wouldn't be meant to replace the Art Basel or TEFAF art market reports as we obviously can't compete with the breadth and depth of their analysis. However, we'd be aiming to provide a more on-the-ground and readily available account of what's going on in the New York art world from month to month. 

It would cost approximately $20 per month and would be aimed at those of our readers who are reading this email on their phones before the auctions tonight, or over lunch at their desk in Christie's, Sotheby's, Phillips, or one of the many galleries scattered throughout the city (or those of you in other cities who have a stake in the success of the art market in New York). 

Click below to tell us if you're interested. 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. 

Would you be interested in such an offering? Click below to let us know. Fingers crossed... 



Five Museum Shows to See This Week


They may all be obvious choices, but they're 'duh' inducing for a reason. Take a break from the gallery hopping and explore the exhibitions that regular New Yorkers (if there are such a thing) are talking about. 

Zoe Leonard: Survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Chaim Soutine: Flesh at The Jewish Museum

Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination at The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute

"David Bowie is" at the Brooklyn Museum

Brancusi at the Guggenheim 


The Canvas's New Instagram

While The Canvas normally brings you snapshots from the New York art world's never-ending party circuit in this section, today we're again encouraging you to follow us on our new Instagram account. 

We know that there aren't a lot of posts yet, but we promise that before you can blink an eye and rip a hole in a priceless Picasso, there will be plenty to like, share, and comment on. Have a little faith, if you've come to like your art market news with a little sass (and let's be honest, who hasn't?), then you'll love what we'll be posting to our Instagram in the weeks and months to come

Follow us here