When Michael Ovitz thinks you’re a philistine, watch out! The overall reaction to record prices again at Sotheby’s $380.6m (89% sold-through) sale last night with records for Andy Warhol’s silver Car Crash and other works by Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly, Brice Marden, Mark Bradford and others was another round of shock and revulsion as Katya Kazakina recorded on Bloomberg:
“I am an art collector; this is not about collecting,” said former talent agent Michael Ovitz as he exited the cavernous saleroom. “For a moment last night I thought I was in the commodities market,” Ovitz said of the Christie’s sale.
Those overwrought reactions are less instructive than what the trade had to say about the sale which is a simple tale of supply and demand:
“They didn’t have the goods, but when they did they were very successful,” said Lucy Mitchell-Innes, a New York dealer.
“There are a lot of new collectors, a lot of empty walls to fill,” said New York art dealer Dominique Levy.
Gallerist’s Dan Duray stopped one dealer to get his take on the incentives Sotheby’s might have provided to win the lots that were not guaranteed:
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they gave away almost all of their upside, to get those pieces.”
Getting good goods was the challenge of the season. Sotheby’s had gone to several sources, including the Lannan Foundation, collector Steven Cohen and the Dia Foundation which ultimately walked away with $38.4m for a new acquisitions fund. Here’s Carol Vogel with some of the details on their successes:
Among the artworks sold were several seminal sculptures by John Chamberlain, including “Candy Andy.” That 1963 work, fashioned entirely out of old car parts, had set the artist on the course of what became his signature method of using mangled fragments of old cars. It had been expected to bring $2 million to $3 million; Christopher Eykyn, the New York dealer, bought it for $4.6 million. Also for sale was Barnett Newman’s “Genesis — The Break,” a 1946 abstract canvas that brought $3.6 million. The audience came alive with bidders when Cy Twombly’s “Poems to the Sea,” a suite of 24 drawings created in 1959, came on the block. Although it was expected to sell for $6 million to $8 million, a phone bidder snapped it up for $21.6 million.
Dia doesn’t appear to have received a guarantee for its works but Steven Cohen did. Received wisdom puts the value of that guarantee at $80-85m. By Kelly Crow’s calculations, that puts Cohen ahead by more than $3m as the group brought in somewhere shy of $77m:
Five days after hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen’s firm SAC Capitol Advisors accepted responsibility for insider trading by at least six of its employees—an admission that could cost the firm $1.8 billion in penalties—Mr. Cohen did a little trading of his own at Sotheby’s. He sold off six pieces for $76.7 million combined, including a $26.4 million Gerhard Richter abstract from 1986, “A.B. Courbet,” that was bought by a telephone bidder from Mexico. Mr. Cohen also got $20.3 million for a lemon-hued Warhol “Liz #1 (Early Colored Liz)” and $7.3 million for Warhol’s “5 Deaths on Turquoise,” both from 1963.
Gallerist’s Duray watched the bidding play out among these auction regulars:
The third most expensive lot of the evening, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s two-panel work Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) (1982) sold to Larry Gagosian for $25.9 million after a last minute bid following a slow bidding session between Jose Mugrabi and Peter Brant—all three of whom are known to do a fair amount of business together in the artist’s market, and the competition did not seem high-stakes in the room either. Marc Glimcher of Pace Gallery jumped at the bidding on a Dia work by John Chamberlain, Malaprop (1969), with a little “toodle-oo” finger wave over the head of the person sitting in front of him, and won the lot for $845,000.
The Master, Judd Tully, tallied up the top lots:
Forty-seven of the 54 lots that sold made over $1 million. Of those, two made over $10 million, and seven made over $20 million.
And summed up the evening and the week with this response from Philippe Ségalot:
“I didn’t get anything tonight,” said Segalot later as he exited the salesroom, “because what you want goes for the highest prices.”
Sotheby’s Soars With $1 M. Warhol (Gallerist)