Picasso Monet Basquiat and Kusama Brighten Up New York Spring Auctions

Results from the major Modern and Contemporary art sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams’ NY has conveyed a message of optimism to the COVID hit art market. First off, the Collection of the late Dr Teruo Hirose comprised three paintings and eight works on paper, gifted by Yayoi Kusama herself to Dr Hirose, her lifelong friend and doctor whom she consulted in her early years in New York in the 1960s when she was a struggling young artist in need of medical aid. Although the works were expected to go higher they still brought in a total of $15,225,938 at Bonhams’. Christie’s has had a comeback to the pre-COVID days with the sale of Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) (1932) for $103.4 million.

The sale brought in a total of $481.1 million in Christie’s 20th-century evening auction. Hammer total was $414.4 million.

Claude Monet’s Waterloo Bridge effet de brouillard (1899–1903) sold for $42 million $48.5 million, including buyers premium. Vincent van Gogh’s Le Pont de Trinquetaille (1888) sold for a hammer price of $34 million, or $39.3 million with fees. A late Rothko sold for $33 million, $38.2 million including buyers premium.

Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) (1932
Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) (1932

Kusama Sale

The eight works on paper, executed by Kusama before she arrived in the United States in 1957, are cornerstones of the artist’s practice, laying the aesthetic groundwork for her career. Painted when Kusama was in her twenties, the works show the genesis of her Infinity Nets and elements such as polka dots and flower imagery for which she would become celebrated.

Both Yayoi Kusama and Dr Teruo Hirose arrived in the US from Japan in the 1950s. The routes they took in life were very different – one was a trailblazing contemporary artist, the other a skilled medical surgeon and physician based in the Bronx, who was also part of the team pioneering open heart and bypass surgery. However, their paths crossed in New York in the 1960s, when Kusama visited Dr Hirose for medical treatment. Dr Hirose was one of two Japanese-speaking doctors in Manhattan in the 1960s, and he built a reputation within the community providing affordable medical care to Japanese patients after hours. He was especially generous to artists, often treating them pro bono. Kusama arrived in the US with little money but with everything she felt she needed: 2,000 of her works on paper and 60 silk kimonos she planned to use in lieu of currency. With one exception, all the works on paper offered in the sale were part of Kusama’s collection from Japan – and which were given to Dr Hirose as gifts in recognition for his kindness in treating her. The pair would become lifelong friends.

This collection of early works by Yayoi Kusama achieved a respectable $15,225,938 in the dedicated 11-lot sale which was 100% sold. This is a world auction record for a single-owner collection of works by Yayoi Kusama. The top lot of the collection was Untitled (1965), which sold for $4,590,313.


"In this Case", a canvas by the American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat
Left: In this Case Jean-Michel Basquiat Christie’s Right: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Versus Medici 1980 Sotheby’s

“In this Case”, a canvas by the American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat has sold for $93.1 million at Christie’s in New York. This is the second-highest price recorded for the artist. In May 2017, Sotheby’s New York sold “Untitled”, another depiction of a skull, for $110.5 million. Painted in 1983, the skull on a red background is a definitive example of Basquiat’s painting style.  At Sotheby’s Versus Medici  hammered home at $44 million  $50.8 million with buyer’s premium.

Christie’s also included several works by black artists in the sale, including Nina Chanel Abney’s work for $990,000, a Jordan Casteel for $687,500 and a Rashid Johnson for $1.95 million. A work by British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye was sold for $1.95 million and a piece by Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui sold for $1.95 million.

The sale on the 13 May at Christie’s saw the 20th Century Evening Sale achieve a hefty USD $481,114,000 (£342,673,789 / €397,501,595) and sold 98% by lot. On 11 May, Christie’s inaugural 21st Century Evening Sale opened the highly-anticipated week by realizing USD $210,471,500 and selling 95% by lot. Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale totaled USD $60,149,500 with 85% by lot and achieved nine new artist records. The Impressionist & Modern Works on Paper Sale totaled USD $9,807,500 with 90% sold by lot. The Impressionist & Modern Day Sale realized USD $11,162,500. Bonnie Brennan, President, Christie’s Americas notes, “Christie’s flagship May auction series in New York more than doubled our October 2020 sales total.


Claude Monet’s Le Bassin aux Nymphéas (1917-1919)
Claude Monet’s Le Bassin aux Nymphéas (1917-1919)

Sotheby’s mounted a three-part evening sale which included postwar American art to contemporary and Impressionist and modern art totalling $597 million. The sale set new records for Richard Diebenkorn, Kenneth Noland and Larry Rivers.

Andy Warhol’s grey and black silkscreen painting Elvis 2 Times (1963) sold for a hammer price of $32 million $37 million with buyer’s premium. Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park No. 40 sold for $23.5 million Clyfford Still, PH-125 (1948-No. 1), 1948 realised $30.7 million including premium,

Roy Lichtenstein’s surrealist-style Girl with Beach Ball II (1977),$12 million ($14 million with premium) Gerhard Richter’s red-orange-foot tall 1992 abstraction, for a hammer price of $20 million. Claude Monet’s Le Bassin aux Nymphéas (1917-1919) realised a hammer price of $60 million ($70.4 million with premium)

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