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Auction Action

Highlights from November’s Post-War & Contemporary Sales

Mid November sparked a hunger in New York City for art acquisitions when the leading auction houses went head to head with the Post-War & Contemporary Art Sales. Both auctions housed masterpieces eager to break auction sale records, and we were not disappointed!  Christie’s closed their sale with a staggering $691.6M, soaring over their previous auction record of $495M just six months ago, and sold 63 of the 69 lots offered – a 91%sell-through rate. The market is being fed more than ever by new and old collectors, museums, and dealers; 42 countries around the world participated in the auction action.

A short decade ago, Christie’s entire Post War & Contemporary evening sale totaled $62m; that is less than half the selling price of their highest lot in this sale: Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud – which topped out at over $142M (an auction record for the artist).  Sotheby’s brought in $381M with a top selling lot of over $105M for Andy Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster).

Christie’s November 12th evening sale opened with a bang, selling Wade Guyton’s inkjet on linen Untitled (a green “U” overlapping a white “U” above flames) for $1.4M — well over its $500-$700K estimate.  A 1982 Basquiat, Untitled (Head of Madman), sold for $12M also above the estimate ($7M-$9M). A couple of lots later, pop artist, Christopher Wool’s Apocalypse Now (1988) influenced by the Vietnam War film, Heart of Darkness, featured the stenciled words, “SELL THE HOUSE, SELL THE CAR, SELL THE KIDS” and eclipsed its $15-$20M estimate when it made $26.5M.

The next lot changed the history of buying and selling art.  Francis Bacon’s Three studies of Lucian Freud sold for $142.4M, a new record for the most expensive work sold at auction; beating out Munch’s Scream which sold for just under $120M at Sotheby’s last year.  While this is the new record it is important to note that the lot did consist of three individual/major works; so divided evenly, that makes each section of the triptych worth $47.5M, a few million shy of Bacons single selling highest paid lot – Study from innocent X – which sold for $52.7M back in 2007 at Sotheby’s.

Another work making headlines was Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog (Orange). The ten foot massive sculpture has a  mirror like finish which Koons commented on in an interview with music artist, Pharrell, “What I love about the reflective surface is that it affirms,” Koons explains, “it’s about you. You move, all of the sudden the abstraction on the surface moves.”  Estimated at $35-$55M, the iconic childhood party animal on steroids made $58.4M.

Among the other works reaching 8 figures were, Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale, la Fine di Dio -$20.9M (est. $15M – $20M); Mark Rothko’s No. 11 (UNTITLED) – $46.1M (est. $25M-$35M); Andy Warhol’s Coca-Cola [3] – $57.3M (est. $40M – $60M) and Mercedes-Benz W 196 Grand Prix Car – $13M (est. $12M – $16M); Donald Judd’s Untitled (DSS42) – $14.2M (est. $10M-$15M); Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Blue Heads – $10.8M (est. $8M-$12M); Roy Lichtenstein’s Seductive Girl – $31.5M (est. $22M-$28M); Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild – $20.9M (I wish he would be a little more creative with his titles); Willem De Kooning’s Untitled VIII – $32.1M (est. $20M-$30M) and Jackson Pollock’s Number 16 – $32.6M (est. $25M-$35M).

Overall, Christie’s hammered down 10 new auction records with 56 of the works selling for over $1M and 3 of those eclipsed the $50M mark. And that was just opening night!

The following evening it was Sotheby’s night to shine and in the end 88.5% of the works sold (87% of those beat their high estimate).

I don’t believe Sotheby’s could have planned this any better … their first lot on the block was a large oil on plywood by Dan Colen  which sold for $341K (est. $250K–530K). Why couldn’t they have planned it better?  Well, the work is rightfully titled, “Holy Shit,” and those words look to be spray painted on the plywood and flipped upside down….yes…’Holy Shit’ is what we all think when one of the Post-War & Contemporary Art works sell. Right? ‘Holy Shit…that made WHAT?!” “Holy Shit…My kindergartener could have done that!!” or ‘Holy Shit…Who has that kind of money to spend!?” We all wish we had that kind of money to spend… J … well, maybe in my next lifetime – but wait, I am only 22 so there is still time! JJ

And moving on…

According to many news sources a collection of works from billionaire hedge-fund manager, Steven A. Cohen, were being offered to help pay for his charge of pleading guilty to insider trading, a $1.8B payout for wrongdoing and securities fraud.  Selling off almost $87M worth of art, Cohen’s lots included: Warhol’s Liz #1 (Early Colored Liz) for $ 20.3M (est. $20M – $30M) and 5 Deaths on Turquoise which made $ 7.3M (est. $7M-$10M), Richter’s A.B. Courbet sold for $26.5M (est. $15M-$20M), Marden’s The Attended making $10.9M (est. $7M-$10M), Mitchell’s Atlantic Side fetching $6.9M (est. $5M-$7M), Stingel’s Untitled for $2.5M (est. $3M-$5M) and Twombly’s sculpture Untitled (The Mathematical Dream of Ashurbanipal) making $2.3M (estimate $2M-$3M).  Not quite the $1.8B he could have used; but hey every little bit helps!

Also, earlier this month a lawsuit arose as two founders of the DIA Art Foundation attempted to stop the sale of several works in the auction that had been donated or loaned with the intent that they would never be sold to private collectors — always keeping them accessible to the public.  Shortly before the sale a settlement must have been reached and the sale continued … combined, the lots made $38.4M. Included were several Chamberlain sculptures, Candy Andy – $4.6M (est. $2M-$3M), Malaprop made $845K (est. $600-$800K), Shortstop brought $1.8M (est. $1.5M-$2M) and Swannanoa/Swannanoa II fetched $1M (est.  $1.5M- $2M); Twombly’s Poems to the Sea, consisting of 24 pencil and wax crayons on paper, made $21.7M (est. $6M-$8M) and Newman’s Genesis – The Break fetched $3.6M (est. $3.5M-$4.5M).

Overall, Sotheby’s achieved seven new artists’ records, one of which was Warhol’s Silver Car Crash Double Disaster) a two part canvas making $105.4M which beats his record of $71M from another car crash series.

Along with the evening events, both salerooms had their day sales … here is a quick summary:

Christie’s Day Sale totaled $90.7M selling 79% by lot.  Some of the highlights of the sale were Frank Stella’s Mitered Squares that sold for $2.6M (est. $1M-$2M), Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe making $2.5M (est. $1.2M-$1.8M) and Basquiat’s Untitled fetching $1.9M (est. $2M-$3M).

Sotheby’s Day Sale made $93.6M, with top lots from artists, Mark Rothko – $3.7M (est. $1.5M-$2M), Julie Mehretu – $2.7M (est. $1.5M-$2M), Alexander Calder – $2M (est. $400K-$600K) and Andy Warhol – $1.9M (est. $900K-$1.2M).  Additionally there were 8 works in the sale donated by Theaster Gates, Wade Guyton and Marina Abromovic whose proceeds went to benefit the Elton John AIDS foundation.

All together the Christie’s and Sotheby’s sales totaled $1.3B. I am sure many people would have rather seen that sort of money go to ending world hunger, relief for the Philippines, government debt….? Nope, the world needs their art!

About Alyssa T. Rehs

Alyssa Rehs is a fourth generation Art Dealer at her family owned art galleries, Rehs Galleries, Inc. and Rehs Contemporary Galleries, Inc., New York City, New York. She received an Art History degree from the University of Rhode Island in 2012 as well as interned at Christie’s Auction House, New York City. Using her art historian degree, gallery experience, and a summer spent working at the auction house, she has a well rounded understanding of the art market. Alyssa appreciates the market from multiple standpoints; art lover, art buyer and art seller!


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