On the evening of Wednesday, November 16, Sotheby’s presented two sales, the first of which, The Now Evening Sale, included 22 works by contemporary (living) artists. It is crazy how this end of the market has taken off over the past few years. Artists selling for almost nothing suddenly started making 6 and 7 figures, and others, who were making seven figures, are now selling for low six figures. Sorry, but something is going on here; anyway, on to the action.
Yoshitomo Nara’s Light Haze Days / Study was a large canvas measuring 86.625 x 76.75 inches painted in 2020 and was the property of an ‘Esteemed Private Collection.’ So, you have an esteemed collection and hold on to work for about two years? Come on. It would be interesting to know what they paid for it and what sort of guarantee they received. The painting was estimated to bring $9-12M and hammed for $10.1M ($11.93M w/p), making it the top lot of the sale.
In a distant second was Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin (M). This 71 x 71 x 71-inch bronze (I would not want to lift that one) was number 8 in an edition of 8 created in 2014. The piece came from a Private European Collector, who, according to the provenance, purchased it from another private collector and was estimated to sell in the $3.5-5.5M range. The lot hammered at $5.4M ($6.53M w/p), just at the upper end of its range. Taking third place was Cecily Brown’s Eyes Wide Shut (2001). The 80 x 84-inch canvas was the Property of a Prominent Private Collection and was purchased at an auction in 2007 for $713K. The painting carried a $4-6M estimate and hammered at $3.7M ($4.53M w/p) – a bit below expectations, but I am sure the seller was still very happy with a multimillion-dollar profit.
Rounding out the top five was a tiny piece by Elizabeth Payton titled Nick with His Eyes Shut. This painting, executed in 2003, measured 11 x 14 inches and carried a $1-1.5M estimate. After a little bidding battle, the work hammered for $2M ($2.47M w/p). Then there was Nicolas Party’s massive soft pastel on canvas work titled Landscape. The 102 x 35-inch canvas was created in 2016 and was expected to sell in the $2-3M range but hammered at $1.9M ($2.35M w/p).
There were a few big winners, including Louis Fratino’s An Argument, painted in 2021, came from a Prestigious European Collection, and carried a $200-300K estimate; it hammered for $580K ($731K w/p). Salman Toor’s Four Friends, painted in 2019, brought $1.25M ($1.563M w/p) on a $300-400K estimate, while Julien Nguyen’s Noli me tangere, Caesaris sum from 2018 made $350K ($441K w/p) on an $80-120K estimate. Then there was Lucy Bull’s 2020 painting titled 16:43 which was expected to sell in the $100-150K range and brought $420K ($529K w/p).
The most interesting lot of the evening, at least for me, was Damien Hirst’s Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder. In 2002, this painting appeared at a Sotheby’s auction with a $500-700K estimate and sold for $538K w/p. Then the work came back in the market in 2007, also at Sotheby’s, with a $1-1.5M estimate, bringing $1.16M w/p. Now, 15 years later, it reappears at auction with a $600-800K estimate and hammers for just $400K ($484K). Has the artist’s work taken that big of a correction?
By the time The Now Evening Sale ended, of the 22 lots offered, all sold; yes, this was a white glove sale. The total sum was a strong $37.5M ($45.8M w/p), based on the $29.4-$42.2M presale estimate. Of the 22 works, 4 were below, 8 within, and 10 above their expected range, giving them an accuracy rate of 36.4%. Regardless of your thoughts about the works offered, the total price shows a strong demand for the genre.