Sotheby’s Winds Up Season with Show of Middle Market Strength

Sotheby's 715 Cont Eve Auction Pic

Sotheby’s £130m Evening sale of Contemporary art closed out the first half of a spectacular year for Modern and Contemporary art with a bang that felt like a whimper. Part of the problem simply comes from the fatigue of such a long season with so many record sales. Judd Tully had this comment from a dealer:

“The auction houses keep pushing the estimates higher so much every time,” said Paris/Salzburg dealer Thaddaeus Ropac. “We don’t realize how strong the market is.”

Indeed, some noteworthy failures in the Richter, Bacon and Warhol markets this week would seem to suggest a turn of the wheel as stalwart market-driving names lost some of their luster. But as the Richter results show, the works that failed had history against them. Those that succeeded like Sotheby’s Richter, “A B Brick Tower” made strong prices without outpacing the estimates.

The Art Newspaper’s Anny Shaw made this astute point about the market’s shift at the shank end of the season toward the middle:

Overall, contemporary works with estimates in the low hundreds of thousands did well. Just under 40% of lots sold for less than £500,000. “We saw high profile prices in New York. Then in Basel, most works sold for around £500,000. Very few paintings sold for more than £5m. Our results are indicative of where the market is, but they are also indicative of wh ere we are after a six-month season,” Gorvy said.

Even the big names were better represented by middle market subject matter like dollar bill collection of mostly Warhols said to be consigned by Swiss hotelier Urs Schwarzenbach. As Colin Gleadell points out, much of the work was absorbed by engrossers in the Warhol market instead of collectors. Thought the £20m top lot did seem to wind up with a retail buyer:Continue Reading

A Quick Look Back at London’s Imp-Mod Sales

Monet, Irises

The state of the Impressionist and Modern market remains a bit of a mystery. Although Sotheby’s showed again last week that the Modern market was anything but moribund, prices (an opinions) seem to be all over the place. Scott Reyburn picked up these comments:

“Names like Malevich, Léger, Manet are here to stay. These artists aren’t going to be debunked,” said Guy Jennings, the managing director of the Fine Art Fund in London. “But they are expensive, so if you invest in them, it will take time. Prices are historically very high.”

Although the restituted Klimt that led the sales was a strong seller at nearly £25m, the trade remained unimpressed:

Dealers regarded this as plenty of money for a painting that wasn’t an instantly recognizable Klimt. “It looked a little too much like a Whistler,” said the London dealer Richard Nagy, who specializes in early 20th-century German art. “I would have liked a little more color and movement. But it did give a collector the opportunity to buy a big name.”

And once again the market seemed to be dominated by a big buyer:Continue Reading

Beleaguered Delaware Museum Clears Its Debt with Sale of Homer & Wyeth

The Delaware Art Museum has had a rough time of it. An ill-conceived expansion plan left the museum with a crippling debt. Then another ill-conceived plan to sell works failed to meet expectations and retire the debts. So now the museum has finally retired its obligations but at a heavy cost. Earlier this week, the Museum’s president confirmed that it had sold an important work, Winslow Homer’s “Milking Time,” as well as Andrew Wyeth’s “Arthur Cleveland”:

Last year, the museum privately sold “Black Crescent,” a mobile by Alexander Calder, and the Pre-Raphaelite “Isabella and the Pot of Basil,” by William Holman Hunt, which brought $4.9 million in an auction at Christie’s in London, far less than the low estimate of $8.4 million the painting had been expected to bring. “Today, we close one of the most difficult chapters in the story of the Delaware Art Museum,” Michael Miller, the museum’s chief executive, said in a statement. “We reached our most important goal – keeping the museum open and thriving. We are very grateful for those who have understood the arduous and complex decisions that we encountered during this long and challenging phase.”

While the museum did not say how much the sales raised, it said in the statement that it had been able to fully repay its debt of $19.8 million without “significantly depleting its endowment.”

Delaware Art Museum Completes Sale of Artworks to Repay Debt (

Sotheby’s London Cont Evening Sale Highlights

Christie’s London Contemporary Fights Fatigue with Bacon, Dubuffet & Single-Owner Collections

Gorvy Christie's Sale Pic

As you can see from Brett Gorvy’s mid-sale Instagram picture from the phone bank podium, there were empty seats up front at Christie’s marquee London sale of Contemporary art. Whether this indicates fatigue among buyers after a record-breaking year of sales or simply indicates the ease of access to the online feed and telephone bidding depends upon your perspective.

Buyers were clearly excited by some of the lots and collections on offer, but the lack of headline works may have reduced the appeal of squeezing into Christie’s King St. salerooms.

Katya Kazakina had this take on the top lots:

At Christie’s, the top two lots were paintings by Francis Bacon. A 1967 canvas, “Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne and George Dyer,” depicting two of the artist’s favorite subjects, fetched 12.2 million pounds, just above the high estimate. A 1971 work, “Two Men Working in a Field,” sold for 10.7 million pounds, also slightly surpassing the high target. The winner was art dealer Gary Tatintsian, who said he bought it for a Russian client.

She also spoke to art adviser Todd Levin who won an Alberto Burri during the sale:

“We are at the tail end of a season,” said Todd Levin, director of Levin Art Group in New York, who advises collectors. “Some people might be a little spent out; others are exhausted.”

“Dubuffet prices are now entering a new orbit,” Levin said. “I saw a number of frustrated friends in the audience who were throwing their hands up because the prices were going above what they were comfortable with.”

The biggest news of the night was negative, the lack of buyers for works by Gerhard Richter something that confirmed signals from Phillips the night before.

Here’s Kazakina:Continue Reading

Christie’s London Contemporary Evening = £95.6m

Phillips London Contemporary = £22.8m

Phillips London Evening 615

Phillips June Contemporary Art Auctions realised a combined total of £22,826,925 / $35,838,272 / €32,185,964 selling 73% by lot

Phillips Contemporary Art Evening Auction realised £18,192,400 / $28,562,068 / €25,651,284 selling 84% by lot.

The Contemporary Art Day Sale totalled £4,634,525 / $7,276,204 / €6,534,680 selling 70% by lot

Top Ten Evening Sale Lots

23 Ai Weiwei Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads, 2010 £3,442,500 / $5,404,725 / €4,853,925 WORLD RECORD FOR THE ARTIST AT AUCTION

30 Bruce Nauman Hanging Heads # 1 (Blue Andrew, Mouth Open …), 1989 £1,762,500 / $2,767,125 / €2,485,125

27 Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe (portfolio of 10), 1967 £1,202,500 / $1,887,925 / €1,695,525

39 Sigmar Polke Carnival, 1979 £1,142,500 / $1,793,725 / €1,610,925

35 Ed Ruscha Ship Talk, 1988 £884,500 / $1,388,665 / €1,247,145

29 Andy Warhol Flowers, 1964 £722,500 / $1,134,325 / €1,018,725

11 Raqib Shaw Arrival of the Horse King from the series Paradise Lost, 2011-2012 £722,500 / $1,134,325 / €1,018,725

10 Sherrie Levine Caribou Skull, 2006 £494,500 / $776,365 / €697,245

22 Damien Hirst Veneration, 2007 £482,500 / $757,525 / €680,325

21 Takashi Murakami Pom and Me, 2010 £482,500 / $757,525 / €680,325


Top Ten Day Sale Lots

134 Damien Hirst Beautiful, beautiful, charity childrens, spin painting (with butterflies), 2007 £290,500 / $456,085 / €409,605

148 Yves Klein La Victoire de Samothrace, (S 9), 1962 £170,500 / $267,685 / €240,405

123 Banksy Love is in the Air (AKA Flower Thrower), 2010 £134,500 / $211,165 / €189,645

264 Stanley Casselman IR-40-16, 2013 £134,500 / $211,165 / €189,645

171 Mimmo Paladino Untitled, 1995 £110,500 / $173,485 / €155,805

125 Olafur Eliasson Untitled, 2002 £104,500 / $164,065 / €147,345

128 Gavin Turk Pile, 2004 £104,500 / $164,065 / €147,345 WORLD RECORD FOR THE ARTIST AT AUCTION

132 Marc Quinn Bahia Mangroves Brazil, 2009 £104,500 / $164,065 / €147,345

124 Nigel Cooke In Da Club – Me Time, 2010 £98,500 / $154,645 / €138,885

119 Rob Pruitt White Pandas, 2003 £92,500 / $145,225 / €130,425

Phillips Brings in £18.2m ($28.6m) with Ai Weiwei, Ruscha, Polke and Nauman

Phillips continues to make progress moving itself toward a meaningful position within the Contemporary art megaplex. Last night’s £18m sale was twice the total volume of the previous year’s event. Although the auction house is still bedeviled by its own habit of estimating works on aspirations rather than on realistic expectations.

Colin Gleadell points out that Phillips as come to hold a strong position in the markets of a few painters like Carrol Dunham and Ai Weiwei:

the top two for Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. After they sold a set of gold plated zodiac figures by him for a record £2.9 million last February to Facebook founding president, Sean Parker, they led last night’s sale with a bronze set estimated at £3 million which they knocked down for precisely that: £3.4 million or $5.4 million including premium, and a new record.

Gleadell was also keeping his eye out for profits:Continue Reading