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Cecily Brown’s 2004 painting Bonus sold from the collection of Ed Cohen and Victoria Shaw at Sotheby’s was one of the top lots of the Armory Week sales in New York. The painting sold for twice the high estimate which, along with works by Gerhard Richter, and Brice Marden, helped the collection make $7.2m at Sotheby’s. Across town, Christie’s middle market contemporary art sale was also boosted by $2m because of the addition of the Earl McGrath collection.
Altogether, this year’s round of auctions accompanying Armory Week and its art fairs were up 15.6% on the previous year’s sales totals. That’s not as big a leap as what took place in London over the last two weeks. Considering the price-points and consistent volumes in the Contemporary middle market, though, the jump is significant and worth exploring at greater length.
The results shown below indicate a Contemporary art market that may be deeper and stronger than many suspect. Sotheby’s ability to sell the majority of the lots in their sale above the high pre-sale estimate is only one of the important indicators.
As these aggregate sales statistics, above, show us, the overall sales total was up; the sell-through rate was a very strong at nearly 83% which is even more remarkable for the type of art works being sold; and, of the works that sold, a very strong nearly 35% made prices above the high estimate.
Prices were so strong that list of top lots, which would normally included some expensive works that sold within or below the estimate range, is almost entirely composed of works that sold exceptionally well. These ‘dynamic lots,’ or lots that were bid over the high estimate make for instructive reading. We’ve composed a list of dynamic lots arranged by price (below.)
The list repays the time devoted to studying it. The artists on the list are an interesting mix of mid-season sale staples, new names and some surprises. One the more remarkable features of the list is its variety. The nature of these sales lead them to feature a broad range of artists and their work. Nonetheless, these sale results are interesting for their diversity and lack of a dominating artist.
The most works by one artist in the sale were by Alexander Calder. That’s common for these sales given the popularity of his works on paper and jewelry. Of the 20 works offered, 75% sold. Of the works sold, 80% made prices that were above the estimate range, including the top lot Red to the Front, a 1973 Gouache which made $137,500 or four times the low estimate. But the whole of the Calders sold only accounted for $868,125 of the $45m total that week. The artist with the most work hardly dominated the overall sales.
Brice Marden‘s work accounted for $1.8m; George Condo‘s 10 works sold for $546,875 (half sold above estimates; 9 of the 10 found buyers); Gerhard Richter is hardly known as a middle market artist but he had 6 works in the sales, of which four made aggressive prices, and the total was $2.075m; Four Helen Frankenthaler works sold for $1.53m, all above the estimate range; only three of the 10 Jean Dubuffet works on offer were bid up above the estimates but all found buyers for a total of $1.3m; figurative artist Jonas Wood had four works on offer with 3 out-running estimates and all selling for $650k aggregate of which 2/3s came from a single untitled work depicting a blue crate that was bid to nearly three times the high estimate; a staple of these sales, Jules Olitski, had three of nine works outsell estimates for a total of $479,625.
Larry Rivers made a strong showing with six paintings all selling above the high estimates for $290k; Two out of three Mike Kelley estimates outperformed for a $281k total; Sam Francis had a rocky time of it with 8 of 9 works selling for $951k but at prices all over the place. Prices were weak for the three out of four Wayne Thiebaud works but they made $706k; William Kentridge sold $422k in work. Yayoi Kusama’s prices were erratic but her five works all sold for $1.4m.
These are the top 50 dynamic lots sold during the Armory Week auctions: