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Part 2 Of The Sotheby’s Marathon – Contemporary

May 13, 2021
abstract images of a figure


When the Marion sale ended, they moved on to the Contemporary Evening Sale, which started at about 7 pm and went on until 9 pm, with only 32 lots. This one just dragged on with the bidders from across the globe and the auctioneer doing everything he could to pump up the prices. I did feel a bit sorry for the employees in London since 7 pm New York time is 12 am in the UK. (unless otherwise noted, all prices are hammer. W/p = with the buyer’s premium)

white and gray abstract


Coming in at number one was Basquiat’s Versus Medici that carried a $35-50M estimate (the highest in the sale) and sold for $44M ($50.8M w/p) – comfortably inside the estimate range. Next came Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Rome) at $36M ($41.6M w/p – est. $35-45M) – this was a guaranteed lot, and it appeared only to receive one bid. Robert Colescott’s George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware… saw intense action and took third place when it sold for $13.1M ($15.3M w/p – est. $9-13M) to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Rounding out the top five: Banksy’s Love is in the Air, which created a bidding war, and when the battle was over, the new owner paid $11M ($12.9M w/p – est. $3-5M) – they were even accepting cryptocurrency for this lot. And finally, there was Calder’s Untitled at $9.6M ($11.3M – est. $4.5-$6.5M).

a group of black people crossing the Delaware river

Robert Colescott

There were several additional artists whose works performed well; among them were a Bruce Nauman – $7.6M ($9M w/p), Jeff Koons – $8M ($9.5M w/p), and Rudolf Stingel – $3.1M ($3.8M w/p). Also, a small (14 x 11 inches) Elizabeth Peyton’s portrait of David Bowie sparked a lot of interest and sold for $1.7M ($2.1M w/p – est. $500-700K), and an 18 x 13 inch oil on panel, painted in 2019, by Salman Toor (who was born in Pakistan), flew past its $60-80K estimate and sold for $700K ($867K w/p).

At the end of the sale, the auction proclaimed a 100% sell-through rate. The only problem I had with the claim is that two lots were withdrawn (Hockney and Morris Louis). Usually, this indicates a lack of interest and the likelihood that the works will not sell. But, since they only put up 32 pieces, I guess we have to give it to them.

Of the 32 lots offered, 32 sold, and the total take was $185.3M ($218.3M w/p). The presale estimate range was $140-194.3M, so they came in close to the high end – which I am sure they were happy about given the fact that some of the bidding dragged on for more than 10 minutes. Of the 32 works offered, 7 were below, 10 within, and 15 above their presale estimate ranges giving them with an accuracy rate of 31.3%. What was even better for some sellers is that almost 50% of the works sold for more than expected. An interesting statistic is that six of the seven works that sold below their estimate ranges were at the end of the sale. Could it be that buyers in Europe were getting tired and went to sleep?

Well, this wasn’t the end of the evening’s action. Next up were the Impressionist works – talk about a long evening!