The analysis of the November 2020 Contemporary Art Day Sales at Sotheby's is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
Earlier this month, Sotheby’s announced plans to stage two stand-alone day sales devoted to modern and contemporary art leading up to its early December evening sale. In a normal, non-pandemic, non-Presidential election year, this would be the time when we would have both Day and Evening sales in New York. But this isn’t a normal year. On Friday, the house announced those two auctions achieved a collective total of $74.9 million. The contemporary segment of the day sales, which included a live and online auction, brought in $48.8 million, coming up short of the combined $57.8 million pre-sale low estimate.
The live sale saw a 76.5 percent sell-through rate with 257 lots sold; the online sale saw 225 lots find buyers, which calculates to an even lower statistic of just 64 percent of lots sold.
In the contemporary live sale, the top result was a Barkley Hendricks portrait of a reclining woman in a floral dress from 1975, which sold for $2.8 million with buyer’s fees, against an estimate of $2 million-$3 million. The price is the second highest result for the artist at auction, next to his record of $3.7 million made for his double-portrait Yocks (1975) at Sotheby’s in May 2019. The work sold last at Swann Auction galleries in 2010 for $48,000, meaning the work has increased in value by 5,739% over the ten-year holding period. That year was also when Jack Shainman added Hendricks to his roster and began to manage Hendricks primary and secondary markets.
Alongside Hendricks, Helen Frankenthaler is another painter active in the post-war era whose prices have reached new milestones in recent seasons, but are still hovering around the $1-2 million price point. Her monumental 1975 painting Giant Step went for $2.4 million, against an estimate of $1.2-1.8 million in Sotheby’s sale. The seller purchased the work at Christie’s in 2003 for just $153,100, against an estimate of $80,0000-$120,000, where it was sold from a corporate collection. The sale represents a price increase of 1,494 percent over the 7 years in private hands. Wayne Thiebaud’s Single Triple Decker (2004) sold for $2.3 million, against an estimate of $1.5-2 million.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s black and white canvas Untitled (Plush Safe He Think) from 1981 went for $1.9 million against an estimate of $1.5-2 million. The work last sold at Christie’s London in 2016 from the collection of actor Johnny Depp for $782,500 ($1 million). The Sotheby’s sale marks a price increase of 79 percent over the four-year holding period. Prior to that it sold for $45,530 at Christie’s in June 1999 and a decade before that, it hammered at its low estimate of just $5,000 at Sotheby’s in its auction debut. The work’s price history follows a solid upward trend line typical of Basquiat’s 1981-2 paintings.
A group of 23 framed and wall-mounted marker drawings on paper by Keith Haring found a new buyer for a price of $1.9 million, against an estimate of $900,000-$1.2 million. The seller, who purchased the installation in October 2016 during Sotheby’s themed “#TTTOP” sale in Hong Kong for HKD 8.2 million ($1.1 million), saw a solid increase in value of 78 percent in the course of four years.
A single-figure painting by George Condo titled Jesus made in 2001 sold for $528,200 with buyer’s fees, the hammer price was near the low estimate of $400,000-$600,000. Despite having been showcased in the artist’s watershed 2011-12 exhibition “Mental States,” and new to the market, the result came up short of the artist’s recent price of $1.3 million paid for Antipodal Reunion (2005) during a Sotheby’s online sale in April.
Another new-to-market work that performed well against its estimate was Kehinde Wiley’s St. John the Baptist Preaching from 2003, which the seller acquired directly from the artist. It sold to a new buyer for $176,400 against an estimate of $80,000-120,000 after 11 bids. Sotheby’s moved the artist’s auction record up just months ago, when Wiley’s LE ROI À LA CHASSE II from 2007 sold for $350,000 during a contemporary day sale in June, against an estimate of $150,000-200,000. Wiley’s prices have seen a slow increase in the auction market; his estimates at Phillips between 2009-10 for similar examples of single-figure male portraits from the early 2000s were set around $40,000-60,000.
Elsewhere in the contemporary day auctions, Sotheby’s saw a new record for American artist Betye Saar. ABCD Education from 2001, a mixed media assemblage and collage on a vintage blackboard went for $81,900, four times the estimate of $20,000, marking a new auction record for the artist. The seller purchased it 8 years ago at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York. Saar’s Honey achieved $44,100, more than double the $15,000 high estimate. The results coincide with an exhibition devoted to the artist now at The Morgan Library and Museum in New York.