There was a moment during Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening sale last week where everything stopped but the success of the sale quickly pushed the controversy out of mind. Its back now in a lawsuit over a late-bid/bid that came just as the hammer fell that drove the price of Sam Francis’s Grey from $3 million to $3.2 million. The underbidder/winning bidder is now suing to get what he thinkis is his painting. Here’s Bloomberg:
Gregory Callimanopulos, a shipping magnate and collector, said in a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court that Christie’s improperly reopened bidding for the painting, “Grey,” after his $3 million telephone bid was accepted by the auctioneer.
The suit against Christie’s claims that Christie’s later sold the painting, with a hammer price of $3.2 million, to Joanne Heyler, director and chief curator of the Broad Art Foundation, which is funded by billionaire Eli Broad.
What’s interesting about the case is that the Christie’s bidder has gotten drawn into the suit in the form of an email she sent to the Callimanopulos camp:
April Jacobs, co-head of Christie’s contemporary sale and the staffer who handled Callimanopulos’s bid, concurred with his account, according to the suit. “‘From my vantage point, I did not see a new paddle go up before the hammer went down,’” Jacobs wrote in a May 14 e-mail to Callimanopulos’s curator, who was not identified.
“In my opinion, we (Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Callimanopulos) were the final bidder, and the piece sold to us for $3M,” the e-mail said, according to the suit.
What happened in the room was fairly simple. Burge was bringing the hammer down with a spotter to his right called out a bid just as the hammer clapped down on the podium. Burge quickly announced the new bid and declared “you saw it,” which was funny because he hadn’t seen it himself but heard the spotter shout. As he re-opened bidding, the telephone bidder made a half-hearted chopped bid and the late-bidder countered to win the lot as the room filled with murmurs. Jose Mugrabi could be seen in his seat wagging his finger at Burge.
Last-second bids are a common tactic in the sale room. And it is the auction house’s responsibility to get the highest price for the consignor. In fact, what was curious about the Contemporary sales at both houses was the number of bidders who were having trouble getting their bids recognized. During the same sale, Amy Cappellazzo, head Christie’s Contemporary department waved her hand frantically from a raised platform at the front of the room as she tried to get her bid recognized. Burge took several other bids at the same time. Eventually Cappellazzo’s bidder got in–at a much higher level.