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How Much is Too Much – Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Day Sale

December 4, 2020
colorful cupcakes

Thiebaud – Nice Cupcakes

On Thursday, Christie’s hosted a marathon day sale of Post-War & Contemporary works, which featured nearly 300 lots… as we have been saying, the auction houses are throwing anything and everything that they can on the block with little regard for how it is being absorbed. Think basic supply and demand – if there is too much material being put out, it is not simply that an individual auction sees a poor sell-through rate; the greater issue is it creates downward pressure on prices, which hurts the market as a whole. There will always be nice prices paid for the top works being offered, but it is the rest of the field that suffers.

face with colors

Warhol – Marilyn

Taking the top spot on the day was Wayne Thiebaud’s Nine Cupcakes as expected – it carried the highest estimate in the sale. The work, which was only painted in 2009, hammered at $2.4M ($2.9M w/p) on a $1.5-2.5M estimate.  A few lots earlier in the sale, two lots sold in quick succession which turned out to be good enough for the second and third highest prices of the day… two different color variations of Warhol’s Marilyn, each sporting a $1.2-1.8M estimate. The first, which was arguably nicer in my humble opinion, utilized a bit more color and contrast with splashes of bright blue, pink, yellow, and green – it found a buyer at $1.49M hammer ($1.81M w/p). The latter, which incorporated swaths of red, purple, and green, only reached $1.39M hammer ($1.7M w/p).

face with green and red

Warhol – Marilyn

Rounding out the top 5, we saw the “digital cover” piece – Matthew Wong’s Coming of Age Landscape, which found a buyer at $1.3M hammer ($1.59M w/p) on a $500-700K estimate. The work was painted in 2018, just a year before the artist’s death. Not far behind were two works that tied – each carrying a $1.2-1.8M estimate and both hammering at $1.2M ($1.47M w/p); Jackson Pollock’s Untitled and Roy Lichtenstein’s Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup.

There were a few other bright spots among the glut… a work by Salman Toor saw a result of more than 4x its estimate as it hammered at $660K ($822K w/p) on a $100-150K estimate; a Calder hammered at $220K ($275K w/p) on a $60-80K estimate; a Banksy found a buyer at $550K ($687K w/p) on a $150-200K estimate; and two lesser lots – Joel Mesler’s Untitled hammered at $70K ($87K w/p) on a $20-30K estimate and a Robert Mangold hammered at $48K ($60K w/p) on a $15-20K estimate.

Conversely, there was a slew of underperformers and failures… two lots, a work by Saul Steinberg and Hans Hoffman, went for half their low estimate. A Picasso went for just $120K ($150K w/p) on a $200-300K estimate – 40% below the low end. These works were joined by another 75 works that went below estimate – that is 27% of the sale! There were another 71 works that failed to find buyers – that means more than half the sale went below estimate or unsold.

Of the 282 works that were offered (8 were withdrawn), there were 211 sold… that yielded a 76% sell-through rate and a combined hammer of $39M. When we add in the premiums, that bumps the total up to $48.9M, and the sale was expected to bring between $46.4-69.8M, so they just eked it out. That said, these overall results are moderate at best and were likely below most people’s expectations.