Christie’s And Sotheby’s: Roundup For NY’s Autumn Art Auctions


Sotheby’s New York witnessed a commendable result at their ‘Now’ sale on November 15. The lots amassed a substantial and healthy $305.7 million through a three-hour sale. The event comprised two auctions, one spotlighting emerging art and the other featuring blue-chip offerings. Notably, these auctions were significantly fortified by in-house guarantees and irrevocable bids from investors, a strategy that proved successful.

In The Now Sale, the total sales after fees amounted to $55.2 million, with a hammer total of $46.7 million. The standout performer was Julie Mehretu’s 2008 painting, Walkers With the Dawn and Morning, achieving an impressive $10.7 million and setting a new record for the artist.


Lots on offer were 19, with 1 lot withdrawn.
The sell-through rate was 94.7 percent, and after withdrawals, it reached 100 percent.
The presale low estimate was $43.7 million, revised to $41.2 million after withdrawals.
The hammer total surpassed the presale low estimate by $3 million, rising to $5.5 million after withdrawals.
The total low estimate of withdrawn lots amounted to $2.5 million.
Guaranteed lots reached $39.1 million, representing 89.5 percent of the total presale low estimate.
There were 12 lots guaranteed, all backed by house guarantees, and 9 with third-party guarantees.
The total low estimate of third-party guaranteed lots was $34.9 million, constituting 79.9 percent of the total presale low estimate.
A lasting memory of the event was the introduction of a new evening sale auctioneer, Phyllis Kao, injecting style and charisma into the proceedings. A memorable quote came from Kao during a bidding war for Mehretu’s monumental canvas: “I can do this all night,” as she secured a new personal record and the highest auction price for an African-born artist.

In the Contemporary Evening Sale:

Total sales after fees amounted to $250.5 million, with a hammer total of $214.7 million.
The top seller was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two), which hammered at $39 million, slightly below the estimated range of $40 million to $60 million.
46 lots were on offer, with none withdrawn.
The sell-through rate was 93.5 percent, with 3 lots bought in.
The presale low estimate was $202 million.
The hammer total surpassed the presale low estimate by $12.7 million.
Guaranteed lots reached $186.05 million, representing 92.1 percent of the total presale low estimate.
There were 32 lots guaranteed, all backed by house guarantees, and 26 with third-party guarantees.
The total low estimate of third-party guaranteed lots was $176.9 million, constituting 87.6 percent of the total presale low estimate.

During the auction, auctioneer Ollie Barker noted, “It happens to be Georgia O’Keeffe’s birthday today,” while trying to elicit an extra bid for O’Keeffe’s painting Pelvis, which ultimately hammered at $2.6 million.

Next Sale Up: Sotheby’s concludes its big semiannual sales in New York with lower-value auctions starting at 9 a.m. on Thursday, November 16.

Sotheby’s Modern Evening Sale

In a resilient display despite the eleventh-hour withdrawal of eight lots, Sotheby’s New York’s Modern evening sale on November 13 achieved a commendable total of $190.3 million ($223.6 million with fees).

The scaled-down roster of 33 lots presented a revised pre-sale estimate of $179.4 million to $248 million, factoring in the combined pre-sale estimate of $19.3 million to $26.7 million for the eight withdrawn lots. Only two lots were left unbought, resulting in a slender buy-rate of 6.1%. Nearly half of the entries, 15 in total, were supported by a blend of irrevocable bids and house guarantees. Although this total fell short of last November’s $253.3 million (including fees), the evening held its ground.

The auction commenced with the debut of Hedda Sterns’s Road #7, a 1956 Abstract-Expressionist era oil and spray paint on canvas that surpassed expectations, achieving a record $650,000 ($818,000 with fees) against a $600,000 high estimate.

Pablo Picasso’s petite Cubist still life, La Glace (1912), followed, realizing $3.1 million ($3.8 million with fees). Among the seven Picasso works offered, Compotier et guitare (1932) stood out as the most expensive, selling for $21 million ($23.4 million with fees) to a telephone bidder, slightly below its unpublished estimate of around $25 million.

Despite an estimated range of $18 million to $25 million, the earliest of the night’s Picassos, Buste de Femme from 1909, depicting Fernande Olivier, sold for $12 million ($13.6 million with fees), revealing a discreetly adjusted confidential reserve to satisfy the irrevocable bidder.

A highlight of the evening was Marc Chagall’s romantic fantasy, Au-dessus de la ville (1924), which realized $13.3 million ($15.6 million with fees), comfortably within its $12 million to $18 million estimate.

In a notable deaccession move by the Art Institute of Chicago, Balthus’s La Patience (1943) came to the block, backed by a third-party guarantee, selling to US dealer Jeffrey Deitch for $12.5 million ($14.6 million with fees), within its $12 million to $18 million estimate.

Works from a Japanese collection titled “Artistic Reverie” included Joan Miró’s sculpture Projet pour la céramique murale de l’Unesco Le Mur du soleil (1955), commissioned for the Unesco headquarters in Paris, selling for $1.2 million ($1.5 million with fees), within its $1.2 million to $1.8 million estimate.

Monet’s Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, temps couvert (1891), carrying an estimated range of $30 million to $40 million, achieved close to its upper estimate, hammering to a telephone bidder in Asia for $26.5 million ($30.7 million with fees).

Cézanne’s L’Assiette bleue (1879-80) from the same Japanese collection sold to London dealer Angela Nevill for $5 million ($6 million with fees), contributing to the Artistic Reverie group’s total of $50.8 million ($59.8 million with fees).

Monet emerged as the star of the night, with two additional works achieving robust prices. Le Moulin de Lemitz (1888) from the descendants of Impressionist collectors Bertha and Potter Palmer surpassed expectations, realizing $22 million ($25.6 million with fees), crushing its pre-sale estimate of $12 million to $18 million.

Charles Stewart, Sotheby’s chief executive, remarked on the results, stating, “It’s a real collectors’ market. It’s not a market of speculators and you see that reflected in the results.”

While the auction may not have been pulsating, a prelude from Sotheby’s automotive division, RM Sotheby’s, featuring a rare and race-proven 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, generated considerable excitement. Despite falling short of the estimated $60 million, the Ferrari set a new record for the highest price for a Ferrari sold at auction, closing at $47 million ($51.7 million with fees). However, contemporary art collector Larry Warsh expressed a different sentiment, stating, “I’d rather have a Keith Haring car than a Ferrari.”


Update: 9/11/23: Three prized paintings by Paul Cézanne, pivotal assets the Foundation Langmatt had deemed essential for sale to avoid insolvency, garnered a substantial $52.5 million at a Christie’s auction in New York on Thursday.

Markus Stegmann, Director of the Museum Langmatt in Baden, Switzerland, expressed relief as the foundation secured 42.3 million Swiss francs (nearly $46.9 million), post-buyer’s fees, from the sale. These funds will be channelled into creating an endowment, securing the museum’s financial future amid the challenges it faced.

“This is a decisive milestone for us,” remarked Stegmann. The Foundation Langmatt’s decision to sell the Cézannes had drawn widespread criticism, with the Swiss branch of the International Council of Museums questioning the breach of de-accessioning guidelines.

Despite the controversy, the first painting, a still life titled “Fruits et pot de gingembre” (1890-93), fetched $38.9 million, just below the $35 million low estimate. Subject to a last-minute restitution settlement with the heirs of Jacob Goldschmidt, the painting did not meet projections but contributed significantly to the foundation’s goal.

A second Cézanne, “Quatre pommes et un couteau” (circa 1885), secured $10.4 million, and the third, “La mer à L’Estaque” (1878-79), sold for $3.2 million, with fees.

The Christie’s evening auction of 20th-century art recorded a remarkable total of almost $640.8 million, marking the highest single-night total for a sale of works owned by multiple collectors since November 2017. Claude Monet’s “Le bassin aux nymphéas” claimed the top lot, selling for $74 million.

The auction set records for six artists: Richard Diebenkorn, Joan Mitchell, Arshile Gorky, Barbara Hepworth, Fernando Botero, and Joan Snyder. Three works by Egon Schiele, sold after restitution to Fritz Grünbaum’s heirs, surpassed presale estimates.

“I Love Antithesis,” a Schiele self-portrait, fetched almost $11 million, while another self-portrait, a 1910 watercolor with black crayon, sold for $2.8 million. “Standing Woman (Dirne)” earned $2.7 million. The proceeds will benefit the Grünbaum Fischer Foundation, supporting underrepresented artists.

Sotheby’s Emily Fisher Landau Collection triumphs in an expectation-setting selective Market, while Christie’s 21st Century sale struggles.

In a market characterised by uncertainty, Sotheby’s brought a touch of stability to New York’s autumn auction season with its dedicated sale of works from the collection of Emily Fisher Landau, the late patron of the Whitney Museum of American Art. The auction, held on 8 November, achieved a hammer total of $351.6 million ($406.4 million with fees), within the pre-sale estimate range of $344.5 million to $430.1 million.

The star of the evening was Pablo Picasso’s 1932 portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, titled “Femme à la montre,” which fetched $121 million ($139.4 million with fees), meeting its pre-sale estimate “in excess of” $120 million. This is now the record-holder for the Spanish artist. Nine out of the 31 lots on offer surpassed the $10 million mark, with three works crossing the $30 million threshold.

Sotheby’s strategic approach to setting estimates made this sale stand out, striking a balance between reflecting the market and the uniqueness of the artworks. This careful estimation led to a significant portion of the works—around two-thirds—hammering within their pre-sale estimate ranges. Such a result contrasts with the spring auction cycle, where inflated estimates led to disappointments, suggesting a potential market dynamics shift.

Sotheby’s guaranteed a minimum price for all 31 objects in the auction, ensuring a sold-out sale regardless of bidding activity. Moreover, 25 of the 31 lots were backed by third parties, minimising risks and ensuring a smooth auction process. While some works sold below estimates, the overall outcome was hailed as a success in a discerning art market.

As the market continues to evolve, Sotheby’s remains cautiously optimistic, strengthening its position by a well-executed sale demonstrating the importance of precise expectation-setting in a market driven by real collectors.

Sotheby's And Christie's: A Rollercoaster Week For NY's Autumn Art Auctions
Auctioneer Georgina Hilton sells the top lot of the 21st Century Evening Sale, Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Bacchus 1st Version II) for $19,960,00. © Christie’s Images Ltd 2023.

Christie’s NY 21st-Century Sale: Bids Fluctuate Amid Art Market Rollercoaster

Christie’s 21st-century evening sale on 7 November did little to soothe investors’ concerns in an art market seeking stability during New York’s autumn auction season. Contrary to expectations, the results defied conventional buyers’ preference assumptions amidst the 2023 market correction. Bidders engaged in fierce battles over works by young and relatively unestablished artists, while several high-profile lots by renowned artists either sold below estimate, failed to find buyers or were withdrawn at the last minute.

The auction amassed a hammer total of $88.4 million ($107.5 million with fees), falling below its revised estimate range of $93 million to $134.2 million, a figure that excluded two withdrawn lots—a Mark Bradford canvas and a Jean-Michel Basquiat drawing—valued at $6.5 million to $9.5 million in total.

Of the 43 works slated for auction, 39 found buyers, resulting in a sell-through rate of 90.7%. This figure rises marginally to 95.1% if the two withdrawn lots are excluded from consideration. Initially, bidding for the auction’s first lots was lively, especially for works by ultra-contemporary artists. Stefanie Heinze’s “Third Date” (2020) surpassed expectations, fetching $190,000 ($239,400 with fees), while Jenna Gribbon’s double portrait “Regarding Me Regarding You and Me” (2020) nearly quadrupled its low estimate, selling for $380,000 ($478,800 with fees). Similarly, Sanya Kantarovsky’s “Charnel Field” (2022) doubled its low estimate, hammering at $160,000 ($201,600 with fees).

The momentum continued with works by artists from the previous generation. Reggie Burrows Hodges’ “Intersection of Color: Loge” (2019) sold for $580,000 ($730,800 with fees) against a $300,000-$500,000 estimate, and Henry Taylor’s “Batman” Part Alien” (2018) brought in $650,000 ($819,000 with fees), surpassing its identical estimate range.

However, the energy waned when bidding began for the sale’s first trophy lot—an untitled 1981 Basquiat canvas with an estimated value of up to $15 million. The hammer fell at the work’s $10 million low estimate, reaching $11.9 million with fees. Similarly, Cy Twombly’s monumental “Untitled (Bacchus 1st Version II)” (2004) fetched only $17 million (just under $20 million with fees), below its $18 million to $25 million estimate.

The excitement returned briefly for Rashid Johnson’s “Bruise Painting ‘Picture Maker'” (2021), which fetched $1.4 million ($1.7 million with fees), surpassing its $1.2 million high estimate. However, enthusiasm quickly waned, and several lots, including John Currin’s 1999 “Nice ‘n Easy” (estimated at $7 million-$10 million) and an untitled 1982 Keith Haring painting (estimated at $3.5 million), failed to meet their estimates. This pattern of erratic bidding persisted throughout the sale, with moments of high anticipation followed by subdued outcomes.

Despite these fluctuations, the auction demonstrated that there is still optimism in the market. However, the unevenness experienced in the high-end auction sector during the first ten months of 2023 may continue into the year’s final two months. Christie’s 21st-century evening sale has left investors with lingering uncertainty about the market’s trajectory.

More to be added to this report on 10th November

Top Photo: Oliver Barker Sotheby’s Chair takes bids during the sale of the collection of Emily Fisher Landau Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s

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