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art & design, Auction Action, General News

Coverage on the May 2014 Contemporary Auction Sales

I am sitting here looking over the contemporary results and I can’t help but think… “How many third world countries could you feed with the amount of money spent in one week?”  Truthfully, you could probably feed some with just the top lot from one of the evening sales… Instead, the ultra-rich made it rain money in New York City.

Early this month the big boys held their major Post-War and Contemporary sales and the numbers were a bit mind-numbing.   With totals for the week pushing $1.5 billion (rivaling the GDP of Belize – $1.49B), I would assume both Christie’s and Sotheby’s were more than satisfied with the results.  So with that, let’s get right into it.

The first sale, Christie’s “If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday,” was a preview of what the rest of the week had in store… It was a unique sale, curated by Christie’s, with just 35 lots.  The top lot of the evening set a new world record at auction for Martin Kippenberger.   His work Untitled, painted in 1988, was estimated to bring between $9-12M but ultimately realized just over $18.6M. Peter Doig’s Road House also set a new auction record for the artist, narrowly beating its $9.5-11.5M estimate, selling for $11.9M.  Rounding out the top three was Aqualung by Jeff Koons, which nearly surpassed its estimate of $9-12M, selling for $11.6M.  Of the 35 lots on the block, 34 found a buyer; good for a 97% sell-through rate and a gross of $134M, a bit over the $93-126 million estimate range.  Certainly not a bad way to kick things off.

The following evening was the major money maker, Christie’s Evening sale.  I’ll start off by letting you know that the top three lots were all “estimate on request,” so we cannot compare their expected results to their actual results; nevertheless, I think it is safe to assume the sellers were happy with the numbers.  Leading the pack was Newman’s Black Fire I, realizing over $84M and setting a new auction record for the artist.  Taking second was a triptych by Francis Bacon, Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards, similar in scale to the one sold by Christie’s a few months ago.  This work, painted in 1984, only brought $80.8M; merely 56% of what the other triptych sold for — in November 2013, Three Studies of Lucien Freud was purchased by Elaine Wynn, the former wife of Steve Wynn, for more than $142 million!  Now, I know you were getting worried since any contemporary sale would not be complete without a work cleverly titled… Untitled, so thank you Rothko!   Painted in 1952, this large canvas featuring two shades of blue separated by an orange stripe sold for a whopping $66M. The list goes on and on, two Warhol’s – Race Riot at $62M and White Marilyn at $41M, a Basquiat brought $34 million, Koons’ Jim Beam – J.B. Turner Train (which I am convinced is actually filled with bourbon) sold for $33M.  The top three lots here actually accounted for 31% of the entire sale, and with 68 (94%) of the 72 lots selling at astronomical prices, it isn’t hard to believe that the evening sale alone flirted with 3/4 of a billion dollars (the best pre-sale estimate I was able to get was “In the region of $500 million”). WOW!

The next day, Christie’s was at it again with their morning and afternoon sessions (note: morning and afternoon results have been combined).  The morning session featured some of the more sought after works; the top lot of the day was Andy Warhol’s Six Dollar Signs, which I definitely would have bid on if I had a few million laying around.  With an estimate of $1.5-2M, I should have known my $500 bid didn’t stand a chance; the work ultimately sold for a bit over $3M. Rothko saved the day again with another Untitled, selling for $2.6M (est. $1.5-2M); good for second.  In third was another Warhol, Pink Marilyn, which sold for $2.1M on a $1-1.5M estimate.  Together, the two sales totaled more than $95M and sold 340 (80%) of the 424 lots.

Later in the day, Sotheby’s held their evening sale and while there were some impressive results, in no way did they challenge their rival.  The top lot of the evening was Six Self-Portraits by Andy Warhol; a classic image of Warhol with disheveled hair repeated on six canvases in various colors. The set fell right in the middle of the $25-35M estimate, as they went for just over $30 million (Hey, that’s only $5 million each… not so bad, right?).  Taking second was Richter’s Blau, which was also accurately estimated to sell between $25-35M, bringing $28.7M. Possibly the coolest piece in the sale took the third spot, Jeff Koons’ Popeye.  Standing at 78 inches tall, this colorful statue of the iconic cartoon is depicted with a pipe in his mouth, holding a can of spinach while flexing his massive muscles.  I mean, really, who doesn’t need one of these?  And the buyer was… none other than Steve Wynn, who shelled out just over $28M for this jacked up sailor.  In the end 12 of the 79 lots did not find a buyer, only good for 84% sold and a total of $364 million.  The numbers sound good on their own but Christie’s sale offered fewer works, sold more lots and more than doubled this sale’s total.  Oh, and before I forget… Lot 29… Mark Rothko’s… Un…wait for it, wait for it…titled, sold for $12.2M (est. $8-12M).


The frenzy came to a close on Thursday with Sotheby’s morning and afternoon sessions, which were comparable to Christie’s sales (Again, both session’s results have been combined). The top lot was a large Warhol, Mercedes-Benz W 196, 1954, nearly doubling its $1.5-2M estimate as it realized $3.97M.  A Sigmar Polke brought $3.3M on an $800K-1.2M estimate, and did I mention it was another Untitled (damn, these guys are clever).  Finally, Mark Bradford’s Clapback sold for $2.04M (est. $600-800K) which is good for third.  The two sales totaled more than $96M and sold 367 (80.8%) of the 454 lots offered, nearly identical to their counterpart.

And if you are still wondering about the title to this section … it’s the total weight of the Christie’s and Sotheby’s catalogs (minus the “If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday” catalog – which I did not have)!  Bye-bye trees.



(Written by Lance Rehs)


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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