Christie's Flexes Its Muscles
Christie's pulled in a solid $317.8 million at last night's Ebsworth Collectionevening sale, bouncing back from a thoroughly unimpressive performance at its Impressionist & Modern evening sale a few nights before. The single-owner estate brought a number of high profile American masterpieces to market, with all but four of the lots on offer finding buyers. The $317.8 million fell squarely between pre-sale estimates of $258.3-$360 million, and the buy-in rate for the evening was a strong 88% (with the four unsold lots being relatively minor in value). The night's proceedings were deftly stewarded by Christie's principal auctioneer, Jussi Pylkkanen, who brought his usual calm yet brisk auctioneering style to the sale.
The star lot of the night was obviously Edward Hopper's, Chop Suey, which carried an estimate of $70m-$100m and was backed by a third-party guarantor who received a stunning $4 million fee for his (or her) trouble. Bidding opened at around $50 million and increased in increments of $5 million between Loic Gouzer, co-chairman of Christie’s post-war and contemporary art department, and Eric Widing, Christie’s deputy chairman, who we don't see nearly enough of at the house's evening sales due to his primary focus on American art. The painting hammered at $85 million ($91.9 million with the buyer's premium tacked on and the guarantor's fee deducted), setting an auction record both for Hopper himself, and the entire category of American art as a whole. However, while there were a few bidders in the mix, it was somewhat disappointing that the $100 million threshold ultimately wasn't crossed.
Another major highlight of the evening was Woman as Landscape, a magnificent painting by Willem de Kooning which was owned by comedian, Steve Martin, before being acquired by Ebsworth for his monumental collection. As was often the case throughout the night, bidding seemed relatively sparse in yet another sign that Christie's needs to tamp down its sellers' expectations in the process of winning these trophy lot consignments. Again and again throughout this week, we're seeing numerous examples that the market isn't loving these sky high estimates secured by third-party guarantees. Ultimately, the de Kooning hammered for $68.9 million (against an estimate of $60m-$80m).
Throughout the evening, bidding was most intense for works priced significantly cheaper; perhaps best evidenced by Ellsworth Kelly's, Red White which sold for $2.9 million (against an estimate of $700,000-$900,000). Other highlights included Jasper Johns’s Gray Rectangles, previously in the collection of Victor and Sally Ganz, which sold to a bidder on the phone with Loic for $21.1 million (estimate of $18m-$25m). Interestingly, it looked like Alex Rotter, chairman, post-war & contemporary art- and sporting that fierce beard of his- was receiving signals from, and bidding on behalf of someone within the sales room (something we're pretty sure that Sotheby's vice-chairman, Brooke Lampley, was also doing at the house's Impressionist & Modern evening sale on Monday night).
And of course, Joan Mitchell's, 12 Hawks at 3 O’Clock, was met with spirited bidding and ultimately sold for a rock solid $14 million (comfortably in between its estimate of $12m-$16m) also to Alex Rotter. The only disappointment was that the large scale work didn't end up breaking the artist's record (set last spring) as Christie's senior specialist and vice president, Ana Maria Celis suggested it would when we spoke to her for the November edition of The Canvas Monthly. Read our interview with her, Rotter, and Max Carter by clicking on the link below and subscribing to our premium monthly edition of The Canvas. Remember, what you're reading right now is our free edition that publishes during the major auction weeks and fairs throughout the year.
We'll be back tomorrow and Friday for the results of the post-war & contemporary sales at Christie's, Sotheby's, and Phillips, before taking a Thanksgiving break in the run up to Art Basel Miami Beach. Happy hunting everyone!
The Three Things People Are Talking About
1. Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Peter Brant owns ArtNews no more! It was announced yesterday that Jay Penske's, Penske Media, bought Art Media Holdings, LLC, the holding company that owns ARTnews, Art in America, The Magazine ANTIQUES, and MODERN Magazine for a rumored $20 million-$25 million. In his article about the sale for Artnet, Tim Schneider notes that Alan Mnuchin of boutique investment bank, AGM Partners, advised Penske on the acquisition (Mnuchin is the son of gallery owner, Robert Mnuchin, and brother to US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin). While we hope that ArtNews is the beneficiary of some much needed investment funds as they've been bleeding editorial talent throughout 2018, and are in desperate need of a digital makeover, it's unfortunate that Brant is yet again bailed out of a bad investment (Remember the whole Interview Magazine debacle from this summer? Talk about ugly...). All we can say is that if there are any dazed, confused, or fearful staffers over at ArtNews (on either the editorial or business sides of things) that are looking for a new start and are interested in joining a newsletter that actually helps readers make sense of the major art industry headlines and trends- and the decision makers who help shape them- then get in touch with us. We'd love to have you.
2. In a move that's being widely praised by a number of art world insiders, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has hired Mary Ceruti to be its next executive director. Ceruti has been the director and chief curator of the SculptureCenter in Long Island City for close to 20 years, and will be filling the role vacated by Olga Viso after she stepped down in the wake of protests against Sam Durant's "Scaffold" structure. At a time when the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco demonstrated just how little imagination its board has when it announced that Thomas Campbell would be its next director and CEO (literally swapping jobs with Metropolitan Museum of Art director, Max Hollein), it's nice to see a prominent museum leadership position go to a supremely qualified and capable woman.
3. Banksy thrives on publicity. His entire business model revolves around it. And even though we're reluctant to waste keystrokes on his usual shenanigans (Sotheby's stunt aside), we feel it necessary to weigh in this time around. As Artnet's Henri Neuendorf notes in a recent article on the site, the street artist has been getting accused of anti-Semitsm from some corners of the art world for sharing a satirical pro-Palestine poster on his Instagram that features the slogan "“Visit historic Palestine" with the tagline underneath saying “The Israeli army liked it so much they never left!”. While The Canvas is loathe to comment on politics- that's obviously not what we're here for- we definitely agree with those calling Bansky out. Criticism of the Israel government can be legitimate, and is often well deserved. But this crosses the line into denying Israel's very right to exist in the first place. And the fact that he shared it during a particularly horrific round of Hamas rocket fire aimed at Israeli civilians only adds to the poster's pernicious message.
Five Museum Shows To See This Week
"Andy Warhol- From A to B and Back Again" at the Whitney (obviously)
"Luigi Valadier: Splendor in Eighteenth-Century Rome" at The Frick
"Martha Rosler: Irrespective" at The Jewish Museum
"Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts" at MoMA
"Jewelry: The Body Transformed" at The Met
The Party Circuit
2018 Hirshhorn Gala
(Spotted: Barbara Gladstone, Princess Eugenie of York, KAWS, Mark Bradford, David Kordansky, Manuela & Iwan Wirth, Eddie Martinez, Emmanuel Perrotin, Sukanya Rajaratnam, and Ben Genocchio (no words...)
Opening Reception for 'Andy Warhol- From A to B and Back Again'
(Spotted: Chuck Close, Adam Weinberg, Jeffrey Deitch, and Eric Shiner)
The Performa Gala: 2018
(Spotted: Christo, Rashid Johnson, RoseLee Goldberg, Roya Sachs, Nicole Berry, and Ellie Goulding)