This report on Sotheby’s March 2020 Contemporary Curated sales is available to AMMpro subscribers. Subscriptions begin with a free month for the curious. Feel free to subscribe for the first month and cancel before you are billed.
On Friday, Sotheby’s New York Mid-season Contemporary Curated sale achieved a total of $31.8 million, sustaining bidding across two sale sessions for its vast range of contemporary lots with several key works anchoring the sale’s stable outcome. This figure is down from the previous year’s equivalent sale, which reached $36.8 million carrying an 83.4% sell-through rate for a group of 265 lots, the highest total result in the series history.
The mid-season sale’s highest value lots opened the session and performed well, with Wayne Thiebaud’s 1980s orange back-lit urban landscapes, Civic Center, which landed solidly within its estimate of $2.5-3.5M, sold for $3.3M; the second Thiebaud River Ponds bested its high estimate of $1.2M, ultimately reaching $1.3M. Lee Bontecou’s painted metal and mixed media untitled piece reached its high estimate of at $1.2M and Yoshimoto Nara’s Fire sold for $1.7M, beating its high estimate of $900,000.
Hockney’s work on paper featuring his famous poolside subject matter, realized a price of $692,000, doubling its $350,000 low estimate, and maintaining Hockney’s strong auction stride. James Rosenquist’s massive lush floral image dated 1989 saw high interest and sustained bidding, selling for $596,000 and doubling its low estimate of $600,000. Keith Haring’s small-scale work on paper, bearing a pink background and a graphic face titled Smile with Three Eyes achieved a stunning result of $387,500, selling for more than six times its low estimate of $60,000. Haring’s market share has recently jumped across Contemporary evening sales. The artist was also the subject of a major 2018 retrospective at the ALBERTINA Museum in Vienna and the current around record for his work was set in 2017 at $6.5M. With the success of Kenny Scharf’s comic-pop style in the Christie’s sale on Thursday, it seems that interest in the street art aesthetic is waxing. Lisa Yuskavage’s figurative Big Blonde with Teacup reached a solid $450,000, surpassing its high estimate of $300,000. A similar work with curt and buxom subject matter was featured in the renowned Hort Family Collection preview this week as part of the Armory Show programming in New York.
Another unexpected set of results were achieved with Helen Frankenthaler’s abstract painting which realized $287,500, selling in excess of four times its low estimate of $60,000. Jack Pierson’s Free Love wall-mounted text sculpture also achieved well above its high estimate of $60,000, ultimately selling for $112,500. Murakami’s Full Moon followed suit reaching five times its low estimate and of $50,000 and landing at $265,250. Ralph Going’s photorealist Lawson’s TV tripled its low estimate of $100,000, reaching a selling price of $325,000.
Among the works in the lower priced echelon were Elizabeth Peyton’s deep red figurative portrait of a musician, which went for more than six times its low estimate of 30,000 selling for $193,750. A staple in the contemporary figurative movement, artist Nicole Eisenman’s Its Raining Men also outperformed expectations by more than doubling its low estimate of $50,000. In this bracket, works by female artists saw striking results with works by postwar mainstays like Ruscha and Prince taking the backseat.
Another lot by an emerging artist whose work has received attention in the past few auction seasons is by Jack Shainman’s Nick Cave. Hustle Coat (2017) embodies Cave’s neo-conceptual assemblage and cunning attention to the figurative, with a jacket encased bronze cast armature. The work sold doubled its low estimate of $40,000, realizing a selling price of $81,250.
In the tier of less valuable works by ultra-contemporary artists familiar to the Day sales, were works Marylin Minter and Alex Katz, whose portrait cut-out, Ada, December more than doubled its low estimate of $30,000. An unexpected contender between the two sessions was Outsider art forerunner, Jim Nutt, whose two figurative works of female nude each sold for around $70,000, going for more than 4 times their low estimates of $15,000.
Closing the mid-season contemporary auction week and following Phillips and Christie’s strong results, Sotheby’s march sale failed to reach last year’s marker, but achieved the highest total results of the three firms. Today’s collective lot performance confirms bustling transactional activity in this segment of the contemporary market.