It's not clear anyone went to Sotheby's last night expecting to see a startling exciting sale. Today, most seem hard-pressed to make sense of what they saw. To begin with, the Contemporary Evening sale had trouble coming into focus. It was not one sale but three held consecutively. More than that, the night's biggest lots held little drama selling on few bids but there was a steady stream of unanticipated, dogged competition that repeatedly perked up the room and revived interest.
The evening's total figure of $392m was almost 23% more than last year's equivalent sale (which was dominated by a single lot making $110m). The Mandel collection's $107m more than covered the absence of a runaway lot. There was also the collection of five lots for the Studio Museum of Harlem's building fund that added $16.4m to the total.
The rest of the various owners sale made up the rest of the margin, and more, in enthusiasm as unexpected record prices were set late into the evening for well-established artists like Mark Tansey and Cecily Brown not to mention artists as varied as Kerry James Marshall, Jonas Wood, John Chamberlain, Njideka Akunyili Crosby and David Hockney.
It's safe to say that the whole event caught the art world by off guard, as The Art Newspaper's Sarah Hanson discovered:
“I was surprised by how strong it was”, says advisor Philippe Ségalot.
Ségalot was a stalwart sticking around to the final lot with other hard cases like Andy Hall. But the rest of the room had a mass exodus right after George Condo's Day of the Idol made a price just over the high estimate of $2m to settle in at $2.775m with premium.
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