Online Contemporary auctions are nothing new… but with all the major sales on hold for now, Sotheby’s offered up a curated Contemporary selection, including some that are usually slotted into live auctions (they will also be hosting another Contemporary sale and an Impressionist and Modern sale, which will both be open for online bidding from May 4-14th) – gotta keep the wheels turning.
Much to my surprise, the online offering went incredibly well… mind you, we are not talking about the priciest of contemporary art – the top lot of the bunch was George Condo’s Antipodal Reunion at £1.035M ($1.3M), on a £650-800K estimate. That figure marked the highest price-point for a work sold online through a Sotheby’s auction; and that wasn’t the only work that performed well… 44 works in all surpassed their estimates! Far behind in second was Monir Farmanfarmaian’s Geometry of Hope, which sold on a single bid for £375K on a £300-400K estimate – the work was acquired by the seller in 2004, directly from the artist, though it was completed and exhibited in the 1970s. Rounding out the top three was a work by Fahrelnissa Zeid, which attracted quite a bit of interest with 9 bids before settling at £250K – the work was estimated between £150-200K.
As I mentioned, there were quite a few lots that exceeded expectations… most notable was Andy Warhol’s Crosses – the pencil on paper drawing, which was stamped by the estate but unsigned, attracted 27 bids, and sold for more than 5 times the high estimate at more than £106K (est. £15-20K)! Another overachiever, though teeny tiny, was a 9 x 6 inch marker on paper work by Jean Dubuffet… this one more than tripled its £10-15K estimate with a winning bid of £47.5K. And to be fair… though it featured the lowest estimate in the sale, Oliver Osborne’s Untitled (Arrest), also more than tripled its estimate – it sold for £2,500 on a £600-800 estimate.
There were a few works that did not have a good showing – 2 works went below estimate, 11 failed altogether, along with 10 works that were withdrawn (I’m curious to know if the withdrawn works were pulled prior to going live on the web or they were pulled due to a lack of interest – the latter wouldn’t surprise me with the way auction rooms operate these days) . The most significant failures were works by Mark Tobey and Victor Vasarely – both with a £30-40K estimate, so not too detrimental to the overall picture.
In the end, Sotheby’s sold 84 of the works (or 88%) for a total of £5.09M ($6.4M), which is the highest total Sotheby’s has achieved for an online sale… taking into account that nearly half of the sale surpassed their estimates, it should be no surprise they effortlessly topped the £3.4-4.6M presale estimate. Happy to see some activity in the auction arena!