With Modern works dominating the Monday night sale that launched Christie’s bid to dominate the Spring selling season, the assumption was that its Impressionist and Modern Evening sale which featured the single-owner collection of former Goldman Sachs chief John C. Whitehead would end up an afterthought. Instead the sale turned into a showcase for artists like Constantin Brancusi, Chaim Soutine and Piet Mondrian.
Katya Kazakina put it all together on Bloomberg:
That sale created “a sense of frenzy, especially for the new buyers,” said Giovanna Bertazzoni, Christie’s global head of Impressionist and modern art in London. Those who were under-bidders at that sale returned on Thursday, she said.
As a result, all but three works among the 43 lots found buyers, Christie’s said.
By the end of Thursday, Christie’s sold $695.5 million of Impressionist and modern art Sotheby’s sold $420.4 million in the same category in which it’s usually stronger.
“The results we saw today would not have been possible without the confidence that came out of our May 11 sale,” Bertazzoni said on Thursday.
“The locomotive always has to come before the train,” she said. “Our locomotive was the Monday sale.”
During the sales previews, the standout work of the sale was a Mondrian in pristine condition that had not been on the market for nearly two decades. The $15-25m estimate in an era where Christopher Wool paintings sell for more seemed like a screaming dog whistle for collectors. Scott Reyburn explains in The New York Times:
a 10-minute duel ensued among at least six bidders, including a client on the telephone speaking to Xin Li, deputy chairman of Christie’s Asia, before it was finally sold to the New York art adviser Amy Cappellazzo, seated in the room.
In the end, the final price was a hair over $50m and it seemed as if something had been set right in the art market firmament:
“That was sanity, not vanity,” said the London private dealer Ivor Braka, who said the price was based on the quality of the painting, not financial speculation. “If I had to own one 20th-century painting, it would be a Mondrian like that.”
With the biggest of the big trophies already sold on Monday night, the sale seemed to dwell on works that required more thoughtful tastes even where big names were involved. Artnews’s Zoe Lescaze spoke to the woman running the show:
“The Monet market’s been unbelievably strong, which brings out the quality, but also encourages high estimations,” said Brooke Lampley, head of Impressionist and modern art, after the sale. She noted that the second work lacked the signature haystacks of the more successful piece. “The work from Whitehead doesn’t have some of the qualities that people typically look for in benchmarking the price of a Monet in the sense that it did not have a trademark subject matter. People are very attached to the subject matter as a price point for the artist.” The last time the Whiteread painting was at auction, exactly 30 years ago today at Sotheby’s New York, it sold for $418,000.
Not that the evening was a sober affair, art advisor Kim Heirston was carried away with ebullience when she won a plaster Brancusi bust of a sleeping woman’s head that had been included in the original Armory Show a century ago:
“I kissed my husband after the sale in honor of the Brancusi,” said Heirston who bought the work on behalf of a European client.
The sale also revealed a group of collectors who had been thought to be dormant due to domestic problems. But the strong bidding on Modigliani, Soutine and other artists favored by Russian collectors put that axiom in doubt. Kelly Crow got to the truth:
“People say the Russians have been quiet lately, but they were here in full force tonight,” said auctioneer Andreas Rumbler, who is married to Sandra Nedvetskaia, a former head of Christie’s Russia who now oversees an art fair in Moscow.
And, of course, the issue at the back of everyone’s mind—was there sufficient demand to support all of the art coming to market?—proved almost quaint in retrospect as Katya Kazakina found out from a man who know a bit about having money to spend on art:
“People have a lot of money to spend,” art dealer David Nahmad said. “If there were five more sales, people would be there to buy.”
Art Market Reaches New Milestone With $2.7 Billion Sales Frenzy (Bloomberg Business)
Christies Imp/Mod Sale Brings In More Than $200 Million (BLOUIN ARTINFO)