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Contemporary’s Upper End Is Still Very Hot!

May 18, 2018


Is anyone else exhausted by all of this art?? I need a nap. Sotheby’s and Christie’s are at it again with another set of sales… this time we are talking Contemporary art.

Up first was Sotheby’s, and after a not-so-impressive showing earlier this week with their Impressionist & Modern art, I’m sure there was some concern heading into this sale. Taking the top spot of the night was a relatively small work by Pollock – Number 32, 1949. The work, which still looked fresh, was included in his one-man show at Betty Parsons Gallery in 1949… it was last acquired in 1983 and has remained in the same private collection since; additionally, it has never been offered at auction. Brandishing the largest estimate in the sale at $30-40M… the work found a buyer at just over $34M.


Not far behind was a behemoth… a 2-panel Basquiat that measured more than 12 feet in both dimensions! The work, Flesh and Spirit, was completed in 1983 and was acquired through Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York for $15K… it has remained in the same collection since that time (it was also at the center of a very recent family legal battle).  Expected to sell for $28-35M, the lot found a buyer right in that range at $30.7M.


A few million behind the Basquiat was a work by David Hockney. His 1990 canvas, Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica, was fresh off a world tour as it was included in his retrospective which made appearances at Tate Britain, the Centre Pompidou in Paris followed by the Met in New York. The vibrant work set a new auction record for the artist as it pushed the upper end of it’s $20-30M estimate with the winning bid landing at $28.5M.

The sale held up very well… there were a handful of other well performing lots, including another work by Hockney which made more than $11M on a $5-7M estimate (and also set a new auction record for a work on paper by the artist) as well as a large work by Kerry James Marshall which nearly doubled it’s $8-12M estimate as it sold for $21.1M (a record for the artist at auction). Just two lots failed to sell – works by Kusama and Fontana which carried estimates of $7-10M and $3-4M, respectively – yielding a 96% sell-through rate. Further, the sale as a whole nearly hit the top end of the presale range as they took in $284.5M on an expected $207.7-285.6M.