The Canvas Mega-Edition Featuring Contemporary Sales at Christie's and Phillips: Sponsored by Heritage Auctions

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have a New Record 

It turns out that billionaire currency trader, Joe Lewis, knew exactly what he was doing in the end (you don't get to be worth $5 billion by being an idiot, after all). The Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)consignor declined Christie's multiple offers to accept a third-party guarantee on the work, and his insistence on the $80 million estimate for David Hockney's masterpiece was clearly a smart move (we admit, we at The Canvas were doubters there for a bit).

Perhaps Lewis had received visitors to his stately manse in the Bahamas over the years, and it was his ability to recognize the lust for the painting in the eyes of his fellow global elite that gave him and the specialists at Christie's enough confidence to offer the work without a reserve- a shocking strategy for such a high profile, highly priced cover lot in a November evening sale... We may never know.

What we do know was that at least seven bidders vied for the honor of paying the most expensive sum on record for a work by a living artist (easily outpacing the $58.4 million paid for Jeff Koons's Balloon Dog (Orange). Christie’s global president and auctioneer for the night, Jussi Pylkkänen (wearing his lucky pink tie), casually opened the bidding at $18 million where it quickly bounced in $2 million and $3 million increments until reaching the $55 million mark with a bid from Barrett White, executive deputy chairman, and head of post-war and contemporary art, Americas. From there it became a bidding war between international director and head of evening sale, Katherine Arnold; and chairman of Christie’s Americas, Marc Porter (with some helpful bidding from Christie’s co-chairman for postwar and contemporary art, Loïc Gouzer at the $65 million mark). The bidding lasted for nine minutes, and ultimately it was Porter who prevailed with a winning bid of exactly $80 million ($90.3 million with the buyer's premium). After hanging up with his phone bidder, Porter disappeared for the rest of the night, never to be heard from again, which causes The Canvas to suspect that the winning bidder was somewhere close by. 

Of course, the Hockney wasn't the only highlight of the evening. Bidding was heated right out of the gate with multiple parties interested in the first lot of the night, Phillip Guston's Window, which pulled in an extraordinarily high $3.1 million (against an estimate of $300,000-$500,000). Bidding was also extremely heated for Alexander Calder’s 21 Feuilles Blanches which carried a pre-sale estimate of $5 million-$8 million, and had dealers, Dominique Lévy of Lévy Gorvy, and Christophe van de Weghe both interested in the work. Ultimately, it sold for $18 million (with the premium) to a bidder on the phone with Loïc. 

Directly after the Calder came Francis Bacon's Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing which is the first work to come to auction from the legendary collection of S. I. Newhouse. Carrying an estimate of $14 million–$18 million, it also ended up selling to a phone bidder with Loïc for $21.7 million (with premium). Other highlights included Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park #137 (estimate of $18 million-$22 million) from the collection of Mary Tyler Moore which also sold to Loïc after a protracted bidding war with fellow brother-in-arms, Alex Rotter, chairman, post-war and contemporary art, for $22.6 million with fees; and Mark Rothko's Untitled (Rust, Blacks on Plum) from the collection of François and Susan de Menil which sold to a phone bidder with Barrett White for $35.7 million with fees (against an estimate of $35 million-$45 million)- a somewhat disappointing result for the Rothko market. 

Indeed, the Rothko wasn't the only disappointment of the night at Christie's. A Bruce Nauman neon work failed to find a buyer, as did Helen Frankethaler's Red Square, which was expected to sell for between $3 million and $5 million. Between that and the somewhat disappointing $7.6 million hammer for Joan Mitchell's Russian Easter (estimated at $8 million-$12 million), it was a disappointing night for members of the 'Ninth Street Women'. 

Speaking of disappointments, we should probably talk about the 20th Century Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Phillips which took place earlier in the evening. Perhaps it was the horrendous snow storm which snarled traffic throughout the city that dampened the bidding in the room, however, the $88.5 million pulled in for the sale- which included fees (against estimates of $100 million to $142 million- which don't) can only be described as a tremendous letdown for the house. 

While Andy Warhol's Gun, consigned by private dealer, Tobias Meyer, managed to sell for $9.5 million (against an estimate of $7 million to $10 million), and Joan Miró’s Femme dans la nuit pulled in a very strong $22.6 million (against an estimate of $12million-$18 million) from strong bidding both within the room and on the phone banks, it wasn't enough to staunch the bleeding from the triple blow of three particular passed lots out of a total of six for the evening (in addition to three lots which were withdrawn before the sale). 

Those three works, Christopher Wool'Untitled (estimate of $4 million-$6 million), Alberto Burri's Grande legno e rosso (estimate of $10 million-$15 million), and Jackson Pollock's Number 16 (with an unpublished estimate of around $18 million)- which the house had a lot of its hopes for the evening lying upon- absolutely decimated any chance of Phillips achieving its pre-sale estimate goals. There were other highlights scattered throughout the sale though, including Untitled (Fatal Group) by KAWS which more than tripled its high estimate, selling for $3.5 million (against $700,000-$900,000) as the American graffiti artist continues to make an impression on collectors interested in getting in on his buzzy market.  

While Christie's garnered the headlines and was already past $1 billion for the week as its CEO, Guillaume Cerutti, gleefully noted in the post-sale press conference; and The Canvas still believes that Phillips is on the right track to finding its niche with consignments under the $20 million mark, it seems like Sotheby's came out the major winner for the week- achieving a better sell-through rate, and almost certainly earning a bigger profit on the lots offered throughout its contemporary sale. However, if we're judging based off of Christie's ability to win the consignments of trophy lots and collections- as Alex Rotter readily acknowledged in the same press conference- then things are looking pretty good for the storied auction house. Both Joe Lewis and the Newhouse family are surely happy with the results of last night and will continue to consign works with the power duo of Gouzer and Rotter for future sales. 

It was a mostly strong week for the market. While it's clear that collectors aren't going to be willing to pay sky high sums just for the fun of it (as opposed to the stratospheric market conditions in 2014-2016), there's strong, sustained demand for quality works up to the $25 million mark. Anything above that is clearly receiving more measured bidding and will require a bit more finesse from specialists in order to convince their clients to fork over the money. Luckily, the specialists at Sotheby's Christie's, and Phillips, all excel at finesse. 

The Canvas will have a more detailed look and analysis of the market in our January monthly edition. Our December edition (publishing December 4th) is already quite full and will feature Noah Horowitz of Art Basel Miami Beach, Dominique Lévy of Lévy Gorvy, Pamela Cohen of Art Miami, Amelia Dayan and Daniella Luxembourg of Luxembourg & Dayan, and Sukanya Rajaratnam of Mnuchin Gallery. 

The free edition of The Canvas (what you're currently reading) will next be published throughout the week of Art Basel Miami Beach. We're off until then, and kindly invite you to subscribe to The Canvas Monthly by clicking on the link below. 

The Three Things People Are Talking About

1. In a nice little article for the New York Times, Daniel Grant takes readers inside the leading art storage facilities in New York. Correctly noting that most serious collectors need to keep at least a portion of their collections in storage due to a simple lack of space, Grant specifically mentions Uovo'sexponential growth in the three years since its founding. Having started with a 280,000-square-foot facility in Long Island City (soon to be home to Amazon's second headquarters), Uovo has since opened up two additionally storage centers in Rockland County for a total of 520,000 square feet, with a fourth facility currently being built in Bushwick. We always knew there was a reason why Uovo was our favorite shipping, instillation, and storage company. Also mentioned in the article were Crozier Fine Arts, the Delaware Freeport, and Fortress. Conspicuously absent from the conversation was Cadogan Tate which didn't even merit a mention.  

2. Dmitry Rybolovlev is back in the news (is he ever not?) after being charged in connection with a corruption investigation in Monaco. Rybolovlev you'll recall, is the billionaire collector who's currently suing his former art advisor dealer, Yves Bouvier, alleging that the Swiss dealer overcharged him by a cool $1 billion for paintings he sold him including Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi (which went on to sell at Christie's for $450 million). At the moment, Rybolovlev and Bouvier are embroiled in lawsuits in New York, Geneva, Singapore, and London, however, the current charges against the Russian billionaire stem from the original case in Monaco when he allegedly tried to influence the authorities in the principality in order to have Bouvier arrested. Eileen Kinsella over at Artnet has all the juicy details

3. In the latest step taken by MGM Resorts Art & Culture as it continues to try and turn Last Vegas into a must-see destination on the art world tourism circuit, it was announced yesterday that the city will be getting its very own Kusama "Infinity Mirror Room". Yayoi Kusama's Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity and Narcissus Garden will open tomorrow at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art and will remain open through April 28th, 2019. Las Vegas's continued push into the art world is a topic that The Canvas hopes to explore further in the coming months. In addition to the gallery at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, MGM has Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains public art installation located near Jean Dry Lake, and the ARIA Fine Art Collection at the ARIA Resort and Casino. The company also has a partnership with Art Basel dating back to 2016, and works with insider art PR firm, FITZ & CO on its efforts in the space. 


Five Gallery Shows to See Before They Close

Deborah Anzinger's "Erosion" at Sargent's Daughters (closes November 18th) 

"Matisse and the Model: The Sensuous Link" at James Goodman Gallery (closes November 30th) 

Didier William's "Curtains, Stages, and Shadows Act 1" at James Fuentes (closes November 25th

"Richard Bernstein: Fame" at Deitch Projects (closes November 21st)

"Diane Arbus Untitled" at David Zwirner (closes December 15th)

The Party Circuit

Dan Colen "High Noon" Opening at Gagosian Beverly Hills
(Spotted: Alex Israel, Heather Podesta, Mark Grotjahn, Maurice Marciano, and Dan Colen)

Dia Art Foundation: Fall Night 2018
(Spotted: Raf Simmons, George Condo, Carl Andre, Ana Maria Celis, Josh Baer, Roger Goodell, Nicholas Logsdail, Paula Cooper, and Charles Gaines)

Guggenheim International Gala
(Spotted: Zosia Mamet, Hannah Bronfman, Jon Batiste, and Sofia Hublitz)