On Thursday, the first edition of Sotheby’s contemporary online day sale closed reaching a staggering $13.7 million – the highest result achieved for a digital auction at Sotheby’s to date and more than double the previous record. The auction’s 117 lots on offer achieved a 96% sell-through rate, drawing competitive bidding with a number of key lots out performing high estimates.
Among the top lots in the auction were Christopher Wool’s black and white patterned canvas which sold for $1.2 million, just meeting its low estimate. Brice Marden’s Window No. 4 brought in $1.1 million after collecting 8 bids, surpassing its high estimate of $900,000 and Yoshitomo Nara’s Witching, featuring the artists’s signature manga-style child protagonist garnered only 3 bids landing within its estimate of $600,000 to $900,000, going for a total price of $740,000. Richard Estes 1984 photorealist work, Broadway and 64th, Spring ’84 more than doubled its low estimate $300,000, fetching a high total of $860,000.
In both price-points and historical context, the new online day sale featured lots similar to those in its mid-season auction with works by both emerging and established artists. Among the high performing works by contemporary mainstays was Keith Haring’s tent piece from a collaboration with dancer, Bill T. Jones in the 1980s, which went for a solid $475,000; its high estimate was $400,000. São Paulo-based painter Lucas Arruda’s untitled work went for $350,000, tripling its low estimate of $150,000 with a total of 14 bids. Primary market darling Julie Curtiss, whose surrealist inspired work, featuring the artist’s signature adaptation of the uncanny and sexual fetish, Carapace also collected 14 bids from vying buyers, eventually realizing a selling price of $150,000. The works went for more than double its high estimate of $60,000, yet still came in well below her record auction price of $423,000 achieved in a Christie’s contemporary day sale in November 2019. A painting by famed Colombian figurative painter, Fernando Botero, known for his uniquely humorous and politically provocative style, titled Portrait of a School Girl doubled its low estimate of $80,000, achieving a sale price of $175,000.
At the lower price range in the sale, a record was established for in the auction debut of the late contemporary artist Matthew Wong with a watercolor still-life carrying an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000 drawing 26 bids total and ultimately realizing a value of $62,500. The work was acquired by the consignor through a New York gallery, KARMA in 2018. Auction records were also established for artists whose names are still new on the primary market, including Claire Tabouret, Katherine Bradford and Kengo Takahashi.
Nicole Schloss, Co-Head of Sotheby’s Day Auctions of Contemporary Art in New York sees the high results as a key trial of the current market, that has seen swift changes in auction format as virtual sales expand “to set a new record for an online sale as Sotheby’s is a testament to the strength of market at all levels right now and the quality of the works on offer.” Schloss also noted the sale of two works above the $1 million price point was an indication of the market’s health, adding the results show “a very strong sign that the top end of the market will continue to find a place in bigger and more ambitious online sales.”
“The results from Thursday’s sale are a bellwether of the strength of the market right now and the growing possibilities of online sales. We saw active bidding not only at the top end of the market, but also for younger, up-and-coming artists” said Max Moore, Sotheby’s New York Co-Head of Contemporary Art Day Auctions. This sale marks a milestone figure for the auction house, which reported $100 million grossed in online sales so far in 2020, a staggering increase of 370% from 2019.
While the auction offerings gradual rising in price across these mid-season online sales, the top firms are now catching up with the global collecting trends that show serious collectors are buying from various purchasing channels and regional offerings. With the online sale sector poised to expand rapidly with the force of the coronavirus pandemic, new formats for marquee sales are becoming the industry norm.