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On Wednesday, following its $341 million modern and contemporary evening sale live streamed from Christie’s Rockefeller center headquarters, the house’s contemporary day sale generated $36.5 million with buyer’s fee across 190 lots. Hammering at $29.5 million, it met the pre-sale low estimate of $28 million; but the sale realized a below average sell-through rate of 75 percent.
25 percent of lots sold above the high estimate, 29 percent placed within their estimate ranges and 20 percent failed to reach their low expectation. The result was far lower than last year’s November 2019 contemporary art day sales due to a contraction in lots. That sale brought in a total of $117.1 million. But this is not a directly comparable sale to that event.
Among the top lots of the night was the late Matthew Wong’s large-scale Shangri-La (2017), which sold for a record-setting price of $4.4 million. It hammered at more than 7 times its estimate of $500,000. That beat the previous record of $1.8 million set at Sotheby’s in June for Realm of Appearances (2018) which exceed its estimate by 2.5 times. The estimates for Wong’s works have moved up with recent sales including Far Away Eyes (2018), via Fair Warning, the auction app, for $575,000, and Mood Room (2018), which sold at Phillips for $848,000 in July.
Impressively, Christie’s day sale specialists were able to secure the high-caliber Wong that proved to be evening sale quality. At 96 by 72 inches, it is the largest work by Wong out of the nine works to come to auction so far. Other features, like the work’s title “Shangri-la,” (after James Hilton’s 1933 novel and later film Lost Horizon), according to Christie’s contemporary specialist Isabella Lauria is a reminder of Wong’s other career as a poet and his broader literary and lyrical bent. Also of note is the hidden figure in the canvas, a recurring feature in many of his works.
Beyond the Wong fireworks, an early Ed Ruscha from a series of three, two of which are in museum collections, titled City, with marbles (1969) sold for $2.8 million with buyer’s fees, but the hammer fell short of its low estimate of $2.8 million. The seller purchased it at Christie’s in 2007 for $992,000, a 182 percent increase in value over the 13-year holding period.
Other significant results include Wade Guyton’s 2006 untitled flame painting, which made $1.2 million, hammering within its estimate range and came from a private collection where it has been since 2011. These works have had a volatile market experience over recent years. 2016 was the peak for the work’s comparables; one sold in May 2016 at Christie’s “Bound to Fail” contemporary sale conceptualized by former chairman Loic Gouzer for $2.8 million; another sold for $1.9 million at Sotheby’s in February that year at Sotheby’s London. Th present sale is a sign of continuing interest in Guyton.
Ruth Asawa’s Untitled (S.753, Hanging Ten Interlocking Double Trumpets), a brass and copper wire hanging sculpture sold for $1.1 million, making twice the estimate of $500,000. Asawa has seen new price milestone in the past year. Her record was set at $5.3 million at Christie’s “ONE” sale in July. Her second highest price of $4.9 million was set at Christie’s in November 2019 for a 1955 hanging sculpture. Takashi Murakami’s Oval Buddha Silver sold for $1.8 million. It made more than twice the estimate of $400,000. Murakami, too, is an artist with a spotty auction record. This is a further sign of possible stirrings in his market. Yoshitomo Nara’s Rock You (2010) sold for $870,000, hammering at the high end of its estimate.
Alongside the Wong price, other artists who have seen auction spikes in recent years also saw high bidding. American-Chinese painter Martin Wong’s Brick on Brick (1988) made $150,000 with buyer’s fees. The low estimate was $30,000. That work came to the market from the collection of its sole owner, who had the work since the year it was completed. Robert Nava’s Ejected Driver from 2017 sold for $47,500 with buyer’s premium over a low estimate of $20,000.
Among the other resold works in the sale was Yayoi Kusama’s red-dot canvas from 1988 went for $400,000. It last sold in 2018 at SBI Art Auction for $205,649, a 95% percent increase in value in just two years. Minimalist Lynda’s Benglis’s 1980 gold leaf sculpture Argonauta, which sold for $225,000. It last sold at Sotheby’s in 1997, where it was acquired by the current seller for $1,725. In three decades, the value increased by 12,900 percent. John Currin’s untitled portrait of a young woman from 1990 sold for $300,000, doubling its low estimate. It last sold at Christie’s in 2000 for $99,500, a 200% increase over two decades. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s 1996 edition, North Atlantic Ocean, Cape Breton Island sold for $500,000, meeting its high estimate.
Works acquired directly from young artists saw high bidding. Jordan Casteel’s 2012 self-portrait went for $250,000, beating its low estimate of $120,000. Her 2013 portrait “Mom,” set her top price when it sold for over $666,000 in February 2020 at Christie’s London. Otis Quaicoe’s oil on paper portrait, Just Do It (2019), sold for $131,250, double the estimate of $60,000, but still around half of his current record of $250,000 made for Shade of Black (2018). His auction prices are now around 550% over his primary market prices of $20,000.
Elsewhere in the day sale offering, some blue-chip works failed to meet their expectations. Three works by Robert Motherwell failed to sell, along with a Keith Haring subway drawing and George Condo sculpture at $150,000.