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Sotheby’s Curated Contemporary Sale

March 19, 2021

Ed Ruscha painting of words that say In California you chew the juice our of grapesOn March 12th, Sotheby’s New York presented their Curated Contemporary Sale, which featured a diverse group of artists whose work spans the last 70 years. The selection includes artists that exemplify the postwar period to cutting-edge artists of today.  

For Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sales, they invite a guest curator for each sale. Cynthia Erivo, an award-winning actor, singer, songwriter, and author, was the guest curator this time around and she selected 16 of the 135 works initially offered in the sale. Erivo will portray Aretha Franklin in a production which will air on National Geographic titled Genius: Aretha. One of the highlights of the curated sale is a piece by Andy Warhol of Aretha Franklin. So, let’s see how the sale and Aretha did.

painting of a heart on purple on blue backgroundTaking top honors was a painting by Ed Ruscha titled California Grape Skins (2009); it was estimated to make $2.2 – 2.8M and came in close to the low estimate, hammering down at $2.35 ($2.87M w/p). In second place was Wayne Thiebaud’s Dark Heart Cake from 2014; it was estimated at $1.8 – 2.5M and again just sold slightly north of the low estimate at $2M ($2.44M w/p). Taking third place was the Aretha Franklin image by Andy Warhol. picture of Aretha FranklinIt was estimated to make $900 – 1.2M but fell short when it sold for $850K (1.05M w/p); it last sold in 2014 for $305K. Alexander Calder’s White Fields (which was a guaranteed lot) took fourth place at $700K ($857K w/p – smack in the middle of its $600-800K estimate); the work last sold in 2018 for $1.095M. I am sure the consignor was not happy with the loss they took. And rounding out the top six were two works that tied – each bringing $600K ($746K w/p). Ed Clark’s Made in Manhattan had an outstanding performance based on the estimate of $80- 120K, and a small work by Marlene Dumas, titled Handy, fell right at the low end of the $600-800K estimate; the piece last sold in 2005 for $443.6K.

In total, there were 126 lots in the sale (9 were withdrawn before the sales started), and it just managed to eclipse the overall estimates of $17.3 – 23.8M as the final total was $19.5M ($25.1M w/p). It had a healthy sell-through rate of 86.5%, and the estimates were on target about 33% of the time – 42% of the works made more than the high estimate, and 30% fell below the low end of the estimate. The next Contemporary Curated sale opens in London in April…too much too soon?