Sotheby’s Tuesday night sale, though propped up with guarantees and an important benefit sale for LA MoCA of artist’s original work, seemed to be aimed at a different Contemporary art market from the two mega-events put on by Christie’s on either side of it.
The strong bidding for work in the low eight digits suggested a different sort of middle market but still something more like the one outlined by Sotheby’s new CEO the day before.
Scott Reyburn captured the dichotomy:
“It was a pretty good sale,” said the New York dealer Fergus McCaffrey. “Sotheby’s has settled down. They’re more stable and confident than they were last year. It’s just that Christie’s is running rings round everyone at the moment with the financial resources they’re throwing at the market.”
Judd Tully tallied up the benefits: “Eight of the nine works from the MOCA group sold for $15.9 million, topping the $7.5-10.5 pre-sale estimate.”
Katya Kazakina was first to raise the middle market theme:
Although the Sotheby’s auction didn’t have such big prices, “it was a sale people could participate in,” said Paul Gray, director of Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago and New York.
But Tully was close behind:
Asked about the tenor of the sale, [Liz] Klein, who bought the Kelly for an American client, noted, “There’s a lot of money sloshing around and it’s difficult for traditional collectors who’ve been around to compete for material. It’s a pay to play world now.”
As true as that may be, last night Sotheby’s seemed to be the place where collectors were seeking out undervalued corners of the market. For example, Kelly Crow remarked on this sale:
Painter Helen Frankenthaler’s record was reset when her colorful “Saturn Revisited” sold to a phone bidder for $2.8 million, over its $800,000 estimate. Her previous auction high was $869,000.
The painting had been picked up at Christie’s November 2008 sale when it sold under estimates during the first phase of the financial crisis.
Despite the rage for Christopher Woll word paintings, many were surprised and impressed at how well the artist’s RIOT performed when it made just shy of $30m. Reyburn spoke to Francois Odermatt after the sale:
Mr. Odermatt was gratified to see the high price for the Wool work. With a fellow collector-investor, John Sayegh-Belchatowski, he paid $14.2 million in November for a similar Wool word painting, “Fool,” at Christie’s.
These strong prices aside, there were a number of guaranteed works that failed to generate excitement. One was a Richter abstract that Alex Rotter had been quick to point out during the previews had set a record price. “Once a record price, always a record price,” the specialist intoned hopefully.
The painting sold for a healthy $28.2m but not a record price. But as Brian Boucher notes:
The Richter sale reflects how much the market for his work has soared in the past decade alone. The work was last offered at auction at Sotheby’s in November 2010, where it sold for $11.3 million on an estimate of $5.5–7.5 million. Prior to that, the work was offered for sale at Christie’s in May 2005, where it sold for $1.2 million on an estimate of $1–1.5 million—a mere fraction of today’s price.
Dan Duray had a different perspective on the work:
After the sale, dealer David Nisinson said the Richter result didn’t show an over-saturation of the market, as some have suggested. It’s just that “no one interested in Richter thinks that this is their last opportunity.” There’s an abstract one in almost every contemporary sale.
Duray’s source then sequed into the evenings most muted sale, the Edlis Lichtenstein which made $41.6m which some have suggested covers the guarantee but not the $50m hoped for in the estimate:
As for the Lichtenstein, he said, “It’s a little subdued for people who are going to pay big money for an early Pop picture.”
Others were of two minds, as Judd Tully found out:
“I thought it was a very important painting, from an important series and a big size, but it’s not a painting for everyone,” said New York dealer Christophe van de Weghe, who watched the tame bidding action but didn’t raise a hand. “Still,” the dealer added, “it’s not going to be easy to find another 1962 Lichtenstein painting on the market.”
The Observer got this explanation too:
“People want a face,” private dealer Caroline Schmidt said of Lichtenstein collectors. “Had this been a face with a balloon it would’ve been insane.”
She added that nearly $42 million for a Lichtenstein, whose auction record is $56 million, is plenty. “We’re a little jaded,” she said. Collector and retired plastic manufacturer Stefan Edlis, who sold the work after paying $2.2 million for it at auction in 1997, concurred. “It was remarkable,” he said of the price, 19 times what he had paid for it 18 years ago.
A Rothko Tops Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Auction (NYTimes.com)
Sotheby’s Solid Night of Contemporary Art (BLOUIN ARTINFO)
Rothko, Lichtenstein Lead Sotheby’s $380 Million New York Sale (Bloomberg Business)
Sotheby’s Sells Rothko for $46.5 Million (WSJ)
Sotheby’s $380 Million Evening Sale (artnet News)
Sotheby’s Delivers a Solid, If Slow, $379.7 M. Contemporary Sale, With Records for Polke, Wool, More (ARTnews)
Sotheby’s Tallies Another $380M in Blockbuster Art Sales Week (Observer)