Christie’s And Sotheby’s Report Mixed Results For 2024 Spring Sales

Sotheby's Spring Sales 2024

Sotheby’s $227.9m Double-Header marked tentative start to New York Spring auctions with Strong Sell-Through Rate and Multiple Artist Records Offset Soft Demand for Top Lots.

Sotheby’s opened New York’s spring auction season with a double-header on May 13, achieving $227.9 million across its The Now and Contemporary Art evening sales. Despite falling short of presale low estimates, strong sell-through rates and multiple artist records provided a positive note amidst soft demand for high-value lots.

Mixed Results Amid Market Headwinds

Sotheby’s performance highlighted ongoing challenges in the art market. The sales collectively underperformed against the presale low estimate of $247.8 million, partly due to the last-minute withdrawal of Cecily Brown’s “Sirens and Shipwrecks and Bathers and the Band” (2016), expected to fetch at least $6 million. Adjusted for this withdrawal, the hammer total still fell approximately $14 million short of the lower target.

Nevertheless, the auction house outpaced last year’s equivalent event, which brought in $175.9 million ($204.7 million with fees), indicating a 25% increase in raw value year-over-year.

The Now Sale Highlights

“The Now” evening sale brought in $26.9 million ($32.7 million with fees), just below its adjusted estimate range of $24.2 million to $36.6 million. This slightly declined from the $30.1 million ($37.2 million with fees) achieved in May 2023. Five of the 17 lots carried house guarantees and third-party irrevocable bids, collectively accounting for more than one-third of the sale’s total.

Kerry James Marshall’s “Vignette #6” (2005) was the top lot, hammering at $6.5 million ($7.5 million with fees). Notably, Justin Caguiat’s “The Saint Is Never Busy” (2019) set a new auction record for the artist, fetching $860,000 ($1.1 million with fees), nearly triple its high estimate. Lucy Bull’s “16:10” (2020) also broke records, more than doubling its $700,000 upper estimate to achieve $1.45 million ($1.8 million with fees).

Contemporary Art Sale Performance

The Contemporary Art sale saw 35 lots generate a hammer total of $201.1 million, falling short of the low presale estimate of $217.6 million. However, this substantially improved over last May’s $145.8 million ($167.5 million with fees) from 33 lots.

Despite the lower total, the sale achieved a 91.4% sell-through rate. Francis Bacon’s “Portrait of George Dyer Crouching” (1966) was the highest-selling lot, hammering at $24.5 million ($27.7 million with fees), below its $30 million to $50 million estimate. Lucio Fontana’s “Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio” (1964) also underperformed, selling for $19.7 million ($23 million with fees), just below its $20 million low estimate.

Joan Mitchell’s quartet of paintings performed well, with “Untitled” (circa 1973) hammering at $2 million ($2.4 million with fees) and “Noon” (circa 1969) achieving $20.5 million ($22.6 million with fees), both exceeding high estimates. A new auction record was set for Faith Ringgold’s “Dinner at Gertrude Stein’s: The French Collection Part II, #10” (1991), which hammered at $1.25 million ($1.5 million with fees), surpassing its $1 million estimate.

Market Sentiment and Looking Ahead

Sotheby’s secured irrevocable bids from third parties for 23 of the 35 Contemporary Art lots, representing 78% of the total low estimate for the sale. This indicates a cautious market approach, securing sales through pre-arranged bids amidst uncertain bidding dynamics.

As the spring auction week progresses, attention shifts to Christie’s and Phillips. Christie’s is contending with a cyberattack that has impacted its operations, while Phillips will feature a significant Jean-Michel Basquiat work estimated between $40 million and $60 million.

Sotheby’s results reflect a market in flux, with solid performances offset by unmet high expectations. The art world watches closely as the season unfolds, seeking signs of recovery and renewed vibrancy in the market.

Christie's spring sale 2024

Christie’s Overcomes Cyberattack to Realise $94.6 Million in New York Contemporary Sales

Despite facing a significant cyberattack and the last-minute withdrawal of a star lot, Christie’s demonstrated remarkable resilience, concluding a pair of contemporary art sales in New York with a combined total of $94.6 million ($114.7 million with fees). Critical contributions from artists Félix González-Torres and Jean-Michel Basquiat buoyed the results, particularly spotlighting the De la Cruz Collection and a 21st-century art segment.

Navigating Challenges

On May 14, she showcased Christie’s ability to navigate significant disruptions. The sales included 26 works from the late Miami-based collectors Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz and contemporary pieces primarily from the 1980s onwards. Despite a cyberattack on May 9 that forced Christie’s to switch to a temporary digital infrastructure, the auction house maintained an impressive 90% sell-through rate by volume, even with the withdrawal of six lots totalling at least $34.7 million.

De la Cruz Collection

The De la Cruz Collection auction achieved a hammer total of $28.1 million ($34.4 million with fees), within its presale estimate range of $25.8 million to $37.9 million. The collection saw all but one lot sell, including record-setting sales for Ana Mendieta and Félix González-Torres. González-Torres’s “Untitled” (America #3) was the top lot, hammering at $11.5 million ($13.6 million with fees). The auction benefited from 17 third-party guarantees, ensuring robust bidding despite market uncertainties.

Cyberattack Impact

The cyberattack, which Christie’s termed a “technology security issue,” cast a shadow over the proceedings. CEO Guillaume Cerutti highlighted the swift response and strategic communication that allowed the auctions to proceed. Online bidders were assured participation through Christie’s Live, indicating the auction house’s adaptability in crisis management.

21st-Century Art Sale

The second part of the evening, dedicated to 21st-century art, faced hurdles with the withdrawal of Brice Marden’s “Event,” which had the highest estimate of the night at $30 million to $50 million. This significant lot and two others were withdrawn, diminishing the sale’s potential. Despite this, the sale still realised $66.5 million ($80.3 million with fees), though it fell short of its $104.1 million to $155 million estimate.

Top sales included Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “The Italian Version of Popeye Has No Pork in His Diet,” fetched $27.5 million ($32 million with fees), and two works by Julie Mehretu. Only two online bidders secured lots, underscoring the evening’s reliance on in-room and phone bidders amid digital disruptions.

CEO’s Reflections

Reflecting on the cyberattack and the auction results, Cerutti emphasised the necessity of measured communication and strategic responses to regain client confidence. He assured that the withdrawn lots were unrelated to the incident and praised the company’s collective effort in overcoming the challenges.

Despite the setbacks, Christie’s performance reaffirmed its position in the art market, with Cerutti optimistically stating, “The best is still to come this week.” This resilience underlines Christie’s strength and adaptability despite unprecedented challenges, ensuring it remains a formidable force in the global art market.

Photos: Courtesy Sotheby’s and Christie’s

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