Under Alex Rotter, Christie’s PWC Evening sale has a very strong night; If KAWS gets your goat, wait until you see the $5.4m Frank Frazetta painting.
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In the gloaming of Wednesday afternoon, a luxury sedan pulled up in front of Christie’s. The driver was a tall man in dark blue pants and a dark vest over a white shirt. He leapt out of the driver’s seat still wearing a wide-brimmed hat reminiscent of the swashbuckling character Zorro but without the mask or cape. In one fluid motion, he opened the door for his passenger to emerge onto the sidewalk of Rockefeller Center. From the other side of the car, private dealer Philippe Ségalot emerged and rounded the sedan’s taillights to join up again with his client, François Pinault.
Ségalot took a seat in Christie’s sale room not far from Brett Gorvy and Dominique Lévy, the private dealers who worked closely with M. Pinault while Christie’s employees and with whom many speculate close ties have been re-established. After the sale, Loic Gouzer slipped down the stairs from Christie’s private boxes briefly excusing himself by claiming he just ducked in to use the men’s room.
Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti reminded journalists in his remarks opening the post-sale press conference that “you remember a few months ago, the team has changed a little bit.” He was referring to the departures of François Outred in London and Gouzer in New York from the Contemporary art team. “Some people left,” Cerutti deadpanned before praising the leadership of Alex Rotter who inherited the sole mantle of the Contemporary art department.
At François Pinault’s Christie’s the past of the Contemporary art department is always still present in some way or another.
If the presence of so many predecessors bothered him, Rotter didn’t show it. He spoke warmly of his current colleagues and their ability to pull off a huge sale including three works that sold for more than $50m but also with a 91% sell-through rate. That is the under-appreciated, painstaking work of auctioneering and Christie’s showed last night that it can manage its sales very well even when biggest numbers have taken care of themselves.
At one point during the sale, Jussi Pylkkanen spent six minutes—as much time as the top-lot Koons—coaxing bids on Joan Mitchell’s triptych, Hans, that hammered for $10.5m. The additional $5m Pylkkanen yielded for the consignor added all of 1% to the evening’s sale total.
Even so, there were a few places where Rotter’s team could not bridge the gap between seller’s expectations and buyer’s willingness to spend like on Frank Stella’s massive 12-ft square mitered work. The artist himself was unwilling to accept a $5m bid against a $5.5m low estimate. Similarly, a bland, blue Richard Deibenkorn Ocean Park work was bid to $11.5m another $500,000 shy of the low estimate only to fail to meet the LA seller’s reserve price. With so much Diebenkorn on the market in the last two years, one might have wondered if it was wise to hold out for that last half a yard.
Those were two of the five lots that failed at Christie’s. Many more, a quarter or so, were sold for compromise prices. The most telling one was David Martinez’s Double Elvis, which was bid to $48m in the room and sold for a very round $53m suggesting it went to the guarantor proving once again that the Warhol market has moved mostly to the private side of the business to transact.
One reason the Warhol market has moved indoors is the lack of demand in the upper registers. A portfolio of Marilyn prints with a $2m low estimate was bid to $3.2m hammer proving again the strength of Warhol’s print market and the appeal of his images. On the paintings, the big market makers like José Mugrabi and Larry Gagosian have stopped putting a floor under works at auction. Instead, we saw them re-enter the market last night as buyers.
Art dealer Larry Gagosian was also active in the bidding […] he won was an early Andy Warhol portrait of Elizabeth Taylor from the Mayer collection. It was estimated at $20 million to $30 million, but Gagosian scored it with a final bid of just $16.8 million, fending off competition from Rotter’s phone client. The final price with premium was $19.3 million.
Jose Mugrabi was also in the room, bidding on Warhol’s Little Electric Chair(1964-65) from the Newhouse collection, which he won for a final hammer bid of $7 million, against a pre-sale estimate of $6 million to $8 million (or $8.2 million with premium).
The Mayer’s blue Liz and Si Newhouse’s pink electric chair are pictures that Gagosian and Mugrabi could have been buying out of personal interest or for the long haul. Either way, it suggests for certain works, these players are now buyers, not sellers.
One of the head-scratching moments of the evening came early when José Mugrabi added to the family’s stock of Tom Wesselmann, a position that has never paid off.
Earlier in the sale, Mugrabi also went for one of the Mayer collection offerings, Tom Wesselmann‘s Great American Nude #26 (1962), which he secured with a winning bid of $2 million, the high end of the estimate. Including premium, the final price was $2.4 million.
Also buying was Pace’s March Glimcher who nearly had a good deal at the low estimate on Alexander Calder’s distinctive jeweled Fish until David Nahmad took notice and artfully pushed Glimcher as far as he dared without getting the work himself. This is Kinsella too:
Alexander Calder‘s hanging mobile with colored glass, Fish (circa 1952), was estimated at $12.5 million to $16.5 million. Bidding opened at $10 million and came down to a back-and-forth contest between Pace Gallery president and CEO Marc Glimcher and art dealer Helly Nahmad, who were seated just a few rows apart in the room.
“Who needs an auctioneer?” Pylkkänen joked as the battle went on.
Nahmad made several efforts to outbid his opponent, but Glimcher finally won the work with a final hammer bid of $14.7 million, or $17.5 million with premium.
Some observers were confused about the state of the Robert Rauschenberg market which has been hobbled by the artist’s early success in placing many of his most important works in museums and the artist’s lack of a signature style. Since his death, despite the great wealth of Rauschenberg’s estate, there has been little movement in the artist’s market as many waited for a great object to clarify the situation.
The Mayers had just such an object in Buffalo II but it was always going to be very hard to price the work. Christie’s $50m low estimate looked very rich next to the artist’s previous record setter which Judd Tully points out was “set by Johanson’s Painting (1961), which sold at Christie’s New York in May 2015 for $18.6 million.”
The bidders came out and the $88.8m paid for the silkscreen work put one corner of the art market universe back in line with prevailing expectations. With so much happening in the room, little attention was paid to the KAWS picture that sold for $2.6m and other works passed without too much attention.
Haring’s well-known and large-scale Silence=Death canvas from 1988 barely met its low estimate of $4.5m even though it had been offered for around $8m at Levy Gorvy’s Art Basel Miami Beach stand in December. (This price was more in line, however, with a fresh-to-market untitled work by the artist from 1983 that sold for $4.2m at Bonham’s earlier in the evening.)
The Haring at Bonhams bears watching. We might have more on that another time.
Heritage Sells $5.4m Fantasy Art by Frank Frazetta
The 1969 fantasy painting Egyptian Queen, one of the most legendary artworks by famed artist Frank Frazetta, sold for a world record $5.4 million Thursday, May 16, at a public auction of vintage comic books and comic art held by Heritage Auctions in Chicago, Illinois.
The painting bests the world record as the most expensive piece of original comic book art ever sold at public auction. The previous record was the $1.79 million paid for Frazetta’s Death Dealer 6, 1990, which was set by Heritage in May 2018
The masterpiece is credited more than any other with revolutionizing fantasy illustration in American art. Egyptian Queen first appeared in print as the cover for Eerie magazine #23 in mid-1969, and as multiple prints and posters over subsequent decades.