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Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale – A Strong Showing

November 15, 2018

Willem de Kooning

Last night, Sotheby’s offered up a strong selection of Contemporary works of art in two sales.  The first, The History of Now, was one of a series the auction house is presenting that feature works from a collection built by David Teiger (so far, the Teiger sales have racked up more than $100M).  Teiger was a New Jersey management consultant who passed away in 2014, at the age of 85.  Throughout his career, he was a big supporter of Contemporary art and amassed a very large and important collection of works by Koons, Saville, Schutz, Currin, Doig, and countless others.  After his death, the Teiger Foundation for the Support of Contemporary Art was established, and all the art being offered will benefit that organization.  The works offered here, 11 in all, brought in $41.1M hammer (low end of their estimate range was $33.45M) with the top seller being Willem de Kooning’s Untitled (1987) that brought $8M hammer on a $7-10M estimate.  Peter Doig’s House of Pictures came in a close second at $7.8M hammer (est. $8-12M).  The group’s success was a foregone conclusion since all 11 lots carried irrevocable bids.  Since all the lots were guaranteed, can we really classify this as a white glove sale (100% sold)?


Gerhard Richter

Immediately following was the main sale and there was a good deal of action during the event, with a fair number of bidders actually sitting in the room (somewhat of a rarity these days since most buyers seem to bid via phone).  The top seller of the evening was a painting by Gerhard Richter titled Abstraktes Bild (from 1987).  The work carried an ‘Estimate Upon Request’ and sold for $29.5M hammer ($32M with the commission – w/c).  The whisper number was $30M, so they needed the commission to eclipse it.  I would love to know why they note works with ‘Estimate Upon Request’?  Are they not sure what it is worth?  Most of the paintings at this level are guaranteed, so someone has a good idea of its value.



One of the contemporary market’s darlings came in second – Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Pollo Frito).  This large painting, measuring 60 x 120 inches, was originally purchased in 1982 by Fay Gold, of Atlanta, for $5,200 (Fay’s husband gave her $5,000 to buy a tennis bracelet; instead, she bought the painting).  Some twenty years later, Fay sold the work for $1M – not a bad profit!  Another sixteen years have passed (the work changed hands at least one more time) and now sold for $22.5M hammer ($25.7M w/c – Estimate Upon Request).  The whisper number was $25M.


Georgia O’Keeffe “A Street”

Rounding out the top three was Georgia O’Keeffe’s A Street (being sold by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to benefit future acquisitions).  The 48 x 30-inch canvas traded hands several times since 1926 and was gifted to the museum in 1997.  The work hammered at $11.5M ($13.3M) on a $12-$18M estimate.  What I did find interesting is that the top three lots all fell a little short of their expected range.

While works by Noland and Rothenberg failed to find buyers, and a number of paintings sold below their expected range – including an O’Keeffe for $5.3M hammer (est $8-$12M), there were new auction records achieved for  Jacob Lawrence, Henry Taylor, Jack Whitten, and Dana Schutz.

By the time the two sessions were over, of the 65 works offered, 63 sold (giving them a hefty sell-through rate of 96.9%) and a total take of $311.3M ($362.3M w/c).  The presale estimate range was $278.4-$375.9M, so they were close to the middle without the buyer’s premium – another good sign of a strong sale.  When thinking about these results you should take into consideration that, as reported by the press, 35 of the 65 works had some sort of guarantee; so, the sell-through rate was going to be strong.  Between the two sales, 17 works sold below, 24 within and 22 above their estimated range, giving them an accuracy rate of 36.9% — not too bad.  There is a lot more to come!