This recap of the coverage of Christie’s Contemporary Evening sale is available to AMMpro subscribers. Subscribers get the first month free of charge. Feel free to subscribe and cancel before you are billed.
The coverage of the sale of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi for $450m which accounted for more than half of Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening sale has effectively blotted out any reporting on the rest of the sale. The Contemporary art sold last night had exceptional results for artists like Hans Hoffmann, Philippe Parreno, Lee Krasner, Julian Schnabel, and William Baziotes. Abstract Expressionist works from the Eppler estate did well but could not surpass the strong estimates and guarantees with at least one big failure. A big, guaranteed Basquiat was bought in. Two works by Cy Twombly were sold at or above expectations. And a Rothko that could have been expected to fly a few years ago got solid bids within the estimate range. We’ll have a more detailed look at these sales for AMMpro subscribers when we publish our sales analysis.
In the meantime, the significance of the Leonardo sale may be best measured in terms of Christie’s corporate evolution. The sale puts a punctuation point on three different themes:
The first is Christie’s drive toward remaking the auction sale categories so that the major sales in New York (and to some extent in London) focus on cross-category, high value works of art. Basically, they are trying to group the sales around the buyers by both cultivating and recognizing that the buyers are interested in anything that can be described as a top example of its kind. Through a series of themed sales where Loic Gouzer acted as the point man, the revamping of its Old Master sales and other departments and some other attempts at themed sales organized by other specialists, the firm has been pushing this notion of free works of art from their collecting categories.
It almost helps that there were some public complaints about the Leonardo being in a Contemporary art sale.
The second is that Christie’s new co-heads of Contemporary art, the buddy act of Alex Rotter and Loic Gouzer, is now cemented with undeniable success. Last season, Christie’s went to great pains to signal that their new team was equal to former regimes in gathering consignments and selling them. Even the most begrudging observer has to recognize that the Leonardo was an impressive performance.
Finally, it has been less than a year since Guillaume Cerutti was named CEO of Christie’s. Since that time he has shown himself to be focused on maintaining and extending Christie’s dominant position in the art market. In numbers and attention, this season will give Christie’s both the market share and mind share victories. Next year, the auction house will have the advantage of selling the estate of David Rockefeller. It’s rare the CEO that gets off to such a fast start.