Christie's Impressionist & Modern Evening Sale Disappoints Amidst Underwhelming Bidding

Let The Games Begin

One of the things that The Canvas admires most about Adrien Meyer is that he always seems to carry a look of excitement on his face as he leads an auction. Last night, that look of excitement was often overtaken by a look of concern as the auctioneer surveyed the room and phone banks in the often unsuccessful search for more bidders. 

While last night's Impressionist & Modern art evening sale at Christie's certainly didn't carry the same sepulchral tone that we felt Sotheby's did at its May Imp/Mod sale, the salesroom at Rockefeller Center was definitely subdued in both atmosphere and bidding interest.

The sale fell significantly short of its low end estimate of $304.7 million, achieving a decidedly underwhelming $279.3 million total for the night. However, a large portion of the blame for the poor performance can be attributed to three passed lots (out of a total of nine passed lots for the evening) by Picasso (Lot 26A), Monet (Lot 19A), and Van Gogh (Lot 40A).  

In the case of Picasso's Femme au béret orange et au col de fourrure (Marie-Therese) which carried an estimate of $15m-$20m, bidding stalled early at $14m with Meyer asking somewhat helplessly "What should we do?" to some of his colleagues manning the phone banks. And even though the question was meant as a push to inch the bidding higher, it's hard not to extrapolate it out and view the entire evening through the same lens. 

A particular bright spot for the evening however, came with Monet's Effet de neige à Giverny which attracted a heated bidding war between Max Carter, Head of Department, Impressionist and Modern Art, New York, and Jay Vincze, Senior International Director, Impressionist and Modern Art, London. Carter, who seems to have taken a page out of colleague, Alex Rotter's, playbook, was communicating with his bidder via text and eventually prevailed with a winning bid of $13.5m ($15.5m with fees) against an estimate of $5m-$8m. 

Other highlights included Picasso's La Lampe, the cover lot of the evening which carried an estimate of $25m-$35m and was backed by a third-party guarantee which sold for $29.6m with fees, and Monet's Le basin aux nymphéas, one of a series of the artist's Giverny paintings, which ended up selling to a Chinese bidder on the phone for $31.8m with fees (against an estimate of $30-$50m). 

And while at least the Giverny painting of Monet's sold (for barely above its low estimate), the same could not be said for van Gogh’s Coin de jardin avec papillons. The stunning landscape carried an unpublished estimate of around $40m and was marketed with a pricy video with CGI butterflies. Interest in the room and on the phones was so low however, that Meyer quickly ended the bidding after less than two minutes once Elaine Holt, Vice President, Director of Impressionist & Modern Art for Asia, signaled her bidder wouldn't be moving past the $30m level. 

Overall it's hard to classify the night as anything other than a disappointment- albeit a moderate one. Estimates on the pricier lots seemed to be way off the mark throughout the evening, which really makes The Canvas question that $80m Hockney estimate coming up on Thursday night (more on that below). 

In the November edition of The Canvas Monthly, we asked Max Carter about the house's strategy to offer so many Picasso works in one sale (a question that we're afraid looks more relevant now on the heels of Femme au béret orange et au col de fourrure (Marie-Therese) failing to find a buyer last night). The house generously made Olivier Picasso, the artist's grandson who's intimately involved in his grandfather's market available for comment. See what they both said by clicking below to subscribe for only $18 per month. 

The Three Things People Are Talking About

1. ArtReview published its annual 'Power 100' list last week, and as usual, it got a lot of people talking- and not necessarily in a good way. While power lists always contain some degree of absurdity built into the format (and often cause controversy no matter what industry they're focused on) many an eyebrow was raised upon seeing mega-dealer, David Zwirner (#1), and market darling, Kerry James Marshall (#2), edge out the entire #MeToo movement (#3) on the list. Whether due to its Eurocentric focus, or its general aloofness, the London based publication seems to have badly misread the environment and mood of the contemporary art world in America. Also- since when is 'art world' stylized as 'artworld'? Are we allowed to just make up words now? Just another instance of bizarreness in a list replete with examples.

2. Speaking of David Zwirner... The German-born dealer continues his march toward art market domination with the announcement that his gallery will be representing artist-of-the-moment, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, in conjunction with Victoria Miro Gallery. Back in September, Kelly Crow of the Wall Street Journal published a long, in-depth profile of the Nigerian artist wherein she was described as having felt "naively exploited at times" and "skittish about showing in New York galleries" after having fought with both Tilton Gallery (before the eponymous owner tragically succumbed to cancer last year) and Chelsea stalwart, Fredericks & Freiser, in order to exert as much control over her own market as possible. Somewhat ironically, The Canvas can think of few other young artists who are so keenly involved with knowing the identities of their individual collectors. And while Zwirner will certainly help her cultivate the blue-chip collector pedigree she's been looking for- and help provide a comfortable safety net as she continues her purposefully slow pace of production- we'd be shocked if he's actually sharing the identity of his clients with Akunyili Crosby, which is what she's continuously wanted throughout the years. 

3. Amidst the announcement that Christie's is offering David Hockney's Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) without a reserve in its Post-War & Contemporary evening auction on Thursday, rumors are swirling as to what it might portend for both the artwork itself, and the state of the market in general. There was already chatter among market insiders that buyers were shying away from the $80m asking price despite the consensus that the painting is a genuine trophy piece that any multi-billionaire would be lucky to own (if you're bidding $80m on a single artwork, a single billion won't suffice). The announcement clearly suggests that Hockney's most famous work will be offered without a reserve in an effort to catalyze as many bidders as possible into the mix, in an effort to at least cast the illusion of sustained demand in the market. However, the move obviously carries an inordinate amount of risk. "Hubris (or calculated desperation)" is how one market insider described it to The Canvas. Of course, it's also possible that a certain someone who both sincerely admires the work, and has an interest in the overall health of the art market (and Christie's in particular) could be waiting in the wings, ready to swoop in at the $70m mark if bidding stalls. The Canvas wonders who that someone could be... 

Five Gallery Shows To See This Week

"Alberto Giacometti: Intimate Immensity Sculptures, 1935-1945" at Luxembourg & Dayan

"Calder/Kelly" at Lévy Gorvy Gallery

Tauba Auerbach's "A Broken Stream" at Paula Cooper Gallery

"The Joy of Color" at Mnuchin Gallery

Walton Ford's "Barbary" at Kasmin Gallery


The Party Circuit

Murakami & Abloh "America Too" at Gagosian Beverly Hills
(Spotted: Orlando Bloom, Sasha Grey, Kid Kudi, John Mayer, and Usher) 

SculptureCenter: Annual Benefit Gala
(Spotted: Carol Bove, Gavin Brown, Scott Rothkopf, Lucas Cooper, and Stefania Bortolami)

Hugo Boss Prize 2018: Artists Dinner at the Guggenheim 
(Spotted: Diane Solway, Alexander Skarsgard, Cynthia Rowley, Chloe Wise, Simone Leigh, and Michael Avedon)