“Everything that sold well spoke to collectors who have a sophisticated sensibility,” said David Norman, a former Sotheby’s expert who is now a private dealer.Sophisticated buyers require a fair amount of sophisticated engagement by the auction house's experts. Sotheby's did an especially good job of that with the Max Ernst sculpture that soared to $14m by making the most of the relationship between Ernst and Robert Motherwell whose heirs consigned the work. The Impressionist and Modern art market is balanced upon the massive value of a very few prized lots. Without those lots, the auction house has to fall back on making prizes out of works that have distinctive stories behind them. That was true of the Diego Giacometti library, the Max Ernst sculpture, the Henry Moore and small de Chirico works among the top ten lots. To some extent, the Malevich fit that mold as well. These more sophisticated lots also seem to have more margin in them. At least, Sotheby's wants to send that message. Kelly Crow had this observation that could have only come from Sotheby's executives:
Two people with knowledge of the house’s finances said Sotheby’s still earned between $15 million and $20 million in gross profit from the night, better than expected.
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