Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Evening Sale Defiantly Surpasses Expectations

Sotheby's Bounces Back

We're not embarrassed to tell you that we took a not-insignificant amount of flak from some of the lovely folks over at Sotheby's after we published our inside look at the house's Impressionist & Modern department in the July issue of The Canvas Monthly (read all of our past issues by subscribing here). So we were pleasantly surprised to see them pull off a mainly successful evening at last night's Impressionist & Modern art evening sale at the salesroom over on York Avenue. 

In a surprise move, Helena Newman, the Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and Worldwide Head of Impressionist & Modern Art, didn't lead the night's proceedings, and instead opted to field bids on behalf of her clients over the phone. In her place, we were greeted by the delightfully witty, Harry Dalmeny, Senior Director & UK Chairman, and heir to the Earl of Rosebery (yes, he's a Lord with a capital L). 

Dalmeny brought a sense of self-awareness and amusement to the night that we've felt have long been missing at Sotheby's Imp/Mod sales. However, all the charm in the world couldn't mask the disappointing second half of the evening where a string of lots went unsold. 

The night began to kick into high gear with a trio of highly priced Kandinsky works on offer. All three lots were met with sustained bidding from multiple parties, and either met their pre-sale estimates, or in the case of Improvisation on Mahogany, surpassed its estimate (of $15m-$20m) with a final result of $24.2 million (including the buyer's premium). Le Rond Rouge sold for $20.6 million (against an estimate of $18m-$25m) to a phone bidder represented by Amy Cappellazzo, Chairman of the Fine Art division at Sotheby's. 

Interestingly, it was clear from the beginning of the sale that Dalmeny was going to allow bidding in unusually small increments throughout the evening. It was a strategy that seemed to catalyze bidding interest in the salesroom, but prolonged the night into an almost unbearably long two-and-a-half hours- which was almost definitely a factor in the string of passed lots on the back-end of the sale. 

In total, 16 of the 65 lots offered last night failed to find a buyer, including the major disappointment of the sale, Marsden Hartley's Pre-War Pageant which carried an unpublished estimate of around $30 million. Unfortunately for Sotheby's, the work carried an in-house guarantee, and it will now be left to Amy CappellazzoAllan Schwartzman, and their colleagues in the private sales division to try and find it a home. 

A bright spot for the night came with Egon Schiele's City in Twilight (The Small City II), which sparked a bidding war between NewmanPatti Wong, Chairman of Sotheby's Asia, James Mackie, Head of the Impressionist & Modern Art Department in London, and Sam Valette, Senior Specialist, Impressionist & Modern Art Department, Sotheby's London. It ended up selling for $24.6 million (far surpassing its estimate of $12m–$18m) and was met with applause upon the hammer. 

Other major highlights for the evening included Oskar Kokoschka’s portrait of Joseph de Montesquiou-Fezensac selling to Andrew Fabricant of Gagosian for $20.4 million, Ludwig Meidner’s deeply disturbing Apocalyptic Landscap selling to Lévy Gorvy for $14.1 million, and of course, René Magritte's surrealist masterpiece, Le Principe de plaisir, which achieved a record price of $26.8 million against a pre-sale estimate of $15m-$20m.

Overall the sale achieved a total of $315.4 million (against pre-sale estimates of $283.9 million to $393.4 million) and should prove to be a momentum booster for Sotheby's which has a lot less riding on sky high estimates than Christie's does throughout the sales this week. 

The Three Things People Are Talking About

1. In her latest piece for The Art NewspaperAnna Brady takes a look inside the opaque and often difficult-to-discern world of third party guarantees at the major auction houses. The utilization of third party guarantees (or "irrevocable bids" in Sotheby's parlance) has been increasing steadily since 2010, but has now reached such ubiquity that they're on track "to hit an all-time high of around $2.5 billion in 2018". While traditionally dominated by the well-connected, in-the-know, Nahmad and Mugrahbi families, individuals with a predominantly financial background are increasingly getting in on the action. Brady quotes a number of key market players for her piece including Adam Chinn, COO of Sotheby's and Asher Edelman, CEO of art-lending company Artemus. A number of innovative ideas for how to help regulate these financial instruments are presented in her article, and we strongly encourage you to read the entire piece in order to get a mini crash course on the subject, as it's quite clear third party guarantees are poised to continue to flourish in the current market environment. 

2. What do Hauser & Wirth, Pace, David Zwirner, Kasmin, and Lehmann Maupin, all have in common? They're aggressively expanding their footprints throughout Manhattan. In a New York Times article that explores the trend of galleries expanding their physical spaces to seemingly no end, Laura van Straaten takes readers behind the scenes of what's in store for some of the top galleries in both New York and Los Angeles. This will be a topic that The Canvas explores further over the coming months as we continue to gauge the health of the gallery ecosystem in America's largest art neighborhoods. 

3. We feel strongly that perennial third-place, Phillips, is finally beginning to hit its stride and find its niche amidst the duopoly of Christie's and Sotheby's- and we're not the only ones who have noticed. In a recent New York Times profile of Phillips CEO, Edward DolmanRobin Pogrebinrightfully praises the art market veteran for his dual strategy of attracting high level talent, (Jean-Paul EngelenCheyenne Westphal, and Jonathan Crockett are just a few examples) and the house's focus on lots priced between $5 million to $10 million, rather than the sky high trophy works that the specialists at Christie's and Sotheby's continually fight over. And in a week where the market is seeing little appetite for the most expensive works on offer, that strategy is proving to be particularly prescient. While The Canvas still feels that Phillips can (and should) up its game in the digital and social media departments, we're glad to see the people in charge getting their rightful dues.

In the November edition of The Canvas Monthly, we asked Jean-Paul Engelen about the house's concerted efforts to go after consignments priced under the $20 million mark. Read his response to that- and much more- as part of our in-depth conversation with him, Amanda Lo Iacono, and Michael Sherman ahead of the house's 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale this Thursday night by clicking on the link below and subscribing. 

Five More Gallery Shows To See This Week

John Bock's "Dead + Juicy" at Anton Kern Gallery (Absolute Must See)

"The Life of Forms" at Di Donna Galleries

"Stanley Whitney: In the Color" at Lisson Gallery

"Robert Whitman: 61" at Pace Gallery

"'The Artist And The Model" at Hammer Galleries


The Party Circuit

Wedding of Princess Eugenie (Director at Hauser & Wirth's London Gallery)
(Spotted: Queen Elizabeth II- enough said ) 

Independent Curators International Annual Benefit & Auction
(Spotted: Agnes Gund, Wassan Al-Khudhairi, Merve Elveren, and Emily Rauh Pulitzer)

2018 LACMA Art + Film Gala (Presented by Gucci)
(Spotted: Troy Carter, George Lucas, Gus Van Sant, Doug Aitken, Alex Israel, Will Ferrell, Dakota Johnson, Michael Govan, Mark Bradford, Julian Schnabel, A$AP Rocky, Zoë Kravitz, François Henri-Pinault, Jared Leto, Salma Hayek, Paris Jackson, and on and on and on... Which begs the question, where was The Canvas's invite?)