With the auction mega-week coming to a close, it was Sotheby’s who had last licks at the Post-War and Contemporary arena… at this point the running total for the week, including day sales, was $932.9M so we’re definitely clearing that $1 billion mark between Christie’s and Sotheby’s… just remember that Christie’s single-handedly pushed $1.1 billion out the door in the same set of sales last year, so we’re undoubtedly operating in a very different environment. Let’s get into it…
The first thing I noticed looking at the results, perhaps not so surprisingly, is the top three lots went to private collections in Asia… in fact, the top lot and the number three lot went to the same buyer. That top lot was Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XXII which was estimated at $25-35M and hammered just inside the range at $26.2M ($30.1M w/p) – it was being offered from the private collection of Robert Mnuchin. As for the buyer, while it has not been confirmed, much speculation points to Japanese billionaire Yusaka Maezawa… it’s noted that over the past year, Maezawa has sold off a number of works, but just last week it was announced that Yahoo Japan is buying a controlling 50.1% stake in his company, ZOZO… for $3.7 billion. Not far behind was a work by Rothko, also estimated at $25-35M… this one hammered a bit short of that expectation at $23M ($26.4M w/p and 8% below estimate). It last appeared on the market in 2005, when it was offered through Christie’s New York and achieved a price of $5.6M. Just prior to the sale, Sotheby’s was able to arrange a third-party guarantee on the lot… given that it went below the estimate this time around, I have to assume the guarantor was the one who ended up with the work. Rounding out the top three was Clyfford Still’s PH-399, which topped its $12-18M estimate… this lot was the center of a contentious 15-minute bidding war before the hammer fell at $21M ($24.2M w/p). Again, this lot was scooped up by the same paddle number as the de Kooning, so that single buyer dropped more than $50M!
Rounding out the top five were a couple of interesting results… Kerry James Marshall’s Vignette 19 and Brice Marden’s Number Two. The work by Marshall soared to a $16M hammer ($18.4M w/p) on a $6.5-7.5M estimate – that hammer price is 113% above the estimate, making it one of the best performing lots of the evening. The Marden, while it set a new auction record for the artist, sold on a single $9.6M bid (est. $10-15M) and most likely to the third-party guarantor. Just a few blocks away, Gagosian has a sold-out show of new works on display by Brice Marden, so I assume the seller was looking to capitalize on that. I’d be curious to know if it was Gagosian himself who guaranteed the work… a new auction record for an artist, just after you sold out their show is certainly a good thing to tout to all of your clients (and Gagosian surely has the pockets to buoy his own artists market).
In addition to the aforementioned lots, there were quite a few others that saw impressive prices. Statistically speaking, the top performer was Norman Lewis’ Ritual which hammered at $2.3M ($700k-1M/130% above estimate). Others included works by Charles White at $1.45M (est. $500-700K/107% above estimate); Jackson Pollock at $3.5M (est. $1.5-2M/75% above estimate); Dubuffet at $3.7M (est. $1.8-2.5M/48% above estimate); John Currin at $950k (est. $500-700K/36% above estimate); Wool at $2.7M (est. $1.5-2M/35% above estimate); and Kerry James Marshall at $4.6M (est. $2.5-3.5/31% above estimate). Other works by Wool, Basquiat, and Ruscha topped their estimates, but just barely.
As for the works going low, we saw a Ruscha hammer at $1.4 on a $2-3M estimate (30% below); a Joseph Cornell go for $1.4M (est. $1.8-2.5M/22% below estimate); a Joan Mitchell at $4.1M (est. $5-7M/18% below estimate); and a Baselitz at $4.5M (est. $5-7M/10% below estimate)… in total, there were 10 works that hammered below their estimate in addition to four works failing altogether – the most significant miss being Hockney’s Yves-Marie in the Rain, which was sporting an $8-12M estimate. Works by Hoffman, Motherwell, and Jesus Rafael Soto shared the same fate.
At the end of the session, 46 (92%) works were sold for a hammer total of $229.8M… going in, they were expecting between $205.7-283.3 and they cleared that without the premiums… once you add those in, it bumps the sale up to $270.6M which is pushing the top end of their range. Cumulatively for the week, we’re looking at a whopping total of $1.3 billion (including Friday’s Day Sale at Sotheby’s) – a respectable figure but a far cry from the $1.87 billion the market saw last year. That said, all things considered, this was a pretty solid sale… they kept their BI rate low (8%), were accurate in their estimates (44% within range), and it wasn’t floated by a major lot or two (the top lot accounted for about 11% of the sale total). It was a stable end to an otherwise rocky auction week in New York.