Christie’s presented part two of its pandemic response series of 20th century art sales today– a mix of impressionist, modern and contemporary, Western and Asian art, which realised a reasonable $119.3 million, against an estimate of $94.9 million-$147 million (unless otherwise stated sale prices include the buyers’ premium, estimates do not) with just 5 lots going unsold. Like July’s ONE sale, it was live-streamed from Hong Kong from 9:30 pm local time, where the first section of the sale had been organized, and then during the morning in New York for the remainder. Unlike the ONE sale, Paris and London were left to stage their most recent auctions separately.
At the final count, Hong Kong appeared to have had the healthier result with $52.4 million for 19 lots, of which 8 were guaranteed, while, although New York took the larger sum of $66.9 million, it was for 31 lots, of which 14 were guaranteed.
Alex Rotter, Christie’s Chairman of the 20th and 21st Century Art department put a shine on the performance following the auction. “This week’s sale series in both Hong Kong and New York are a fitting coda to an innovative and re-imagined fall sale season for 20th and 21st Century Art, which started in early October with a $387.2 million sale series, and continued in London and Paris with $141.3 million more,” Rotter said in a statement.
The combined location and department ploy is designed to emphasize the global and interchangeable nature of the market, but also to bolster thin looking sales. This sale, for instance, boasted just thirteen impressionist and modern works, all in New York, which included the star lot of the sale, Toulouse Lautrec’s subtle side view of a young model he discovered in Montmartre, Pierreuse, which had belonged to automotive head Henry Ford II. This attracted at least five bidders, all in New York, before selling well above estimate for $9 million. The other side of the impressionist and modern coin was a sun-dappled Renoir of his wife breast-feeding their son, Pierre. It was last sold in 1988 for $8.8 million to the German chemical billionaire, Herman Schnabel. Schnabel’s wife Elsie said at the time “we just wanted the lovely and the pretty.” But their “lovely and pretty” soon lost its allure. The painting went unsold in 1993 at the tail end of an economic depression and again when Schnabel died in 2010 with a $5/7 million estimate. Today his family was content with a $2.5 million low estimate, and let it go on a $2 million bid to a buyer bidding in Hong Kong who no doubt thought they had snagged a bargain.
The top lot going into the sale was Yoshitomo Nara’s 7 ½-foot-tall Agent Orange (In the Milky Lake), 2009, from the Hong Kong leg of the auction, which carried the highest pre-sale estimate yet of $6.5 million-9 million for the Japanese artist whose prices have been mounting in the last decade. His slightly larger, record-breaking painting Knife Behind Back (2000) sold last year at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong for $25 million against an unpublished pre-sale estimate of $6.4 million. Last night’s painting was bound to sell as it was guaranteed, but it didn’t garner the same competition and sold for $8.5 million.
In the Hong Kong section, Asian and Western art, much from Asian collections, were evenly balanced. A large Andy Warhol Dollar Sign from 1981 from ‘an Important Asian Collection’ ($6 million-$8.6 million) had a third party guarantee. Dollar Sign paintings reached a high $8.8 million in 2015, but have not inflated since. This one looked like it sold to the third-party guarantor against no competition for $6.6 million– below the estimate. A top Warhol from the New York leg today— a 1960s Campbell Soup Can (Chili Beef) had been bought in 2014 for $7.4 million, but now sold below estimate to a guarantor for $6 million.
From the same collection as the Dollar Sign came a 1986 abstraction from Zao Wou-ki, whose market, previously located in France, took off when the Asian collectors discovered him in the 1990s– valuing him close to his post-war European contemporaries like Hans Hartung. This work had been bought in Hong Kong 2016, three years after the artist’s death, for HKD 21.7 million and was looking to double that price with a high estimate of HKD 55 million ($7 million). But it fell well short of that selling for $4.5 million.
Similar adjustments could be picked out. A swirling foot painting by Gutai group artist, Kazuo Shiraga, had been acquired in 2015 in Paris, when his market was soaring with the support of influential figures like advisor, Allan Schwartzman and Texas-based collector, Howard Rachofsky, for €2.2 million. But that market has plateaued and the painting sold today for the equivalent of €2.5 million.
The most ebullient section of the sale came for younger Western artists in Hong Kong where six artist records were toppled. Shara Hughes’ last record was set in Hong Kong last year, and today went a step further when her High Waters, 2016, sold five times over estimate to a Hong Kong bidder for $534,581. Amoako Boafo broke the million-dollar boundary for the first time when his large 2019 painting, Baba Diop, sold for an almost 10 times estimate to the same bidder for $1.2 million
Recently deceased American painter Joyce Pensato’s Sunset Batman 2016 had been bought from Petzel by a US collector. But since it was painted, the Asian market has beckoned, taking a shine to her comic strip subject matter. Many of Pensato’s best prices being set in Hong Kong or Japanese auctions, the highest was $193,590 this July at Christie’s Hong Kong. Sunset Batman predictably came in with the highest yet estimate for the artist of $233,000-362,000 and sold without guarantee and within estimate for $291,590.
Other records tumbled for Nicolas Party ($1.35 million) and Dana Schutz ($6.5 million) along with Georges Mathieu, a French post-war abstractionist who bears comparison with Zao Wou-Ki and is finding a new lease of life on the Asian market ($2.2 million). One of the most popular living western artists in Asia is Cecily Brown, and Bonus, a painting bought in New York in 2017 for $852,000, was strategically placed by the seller of the Nara in this sale expecting it to fetch three times that. It duly sold for $3.2 million to a buyer in the room.
The New York section of the sale looked the shakiest experiencing four of the five unsold lots, with more than half the sold lots selling on or below the low estimate. Conspicuous because of the financial interest Christie’s had taken was a Wade Guyton which had sold for $2.8 million in 2014, but made just $1.1 million this time around, and a Christopher Wool that sold for $3.4 million in 2018 and now slumped to $2.4 million.
“The results show we read the market and its current appetites well, focusing our relay sale on contemporary material and rarities of Impressionist and Modern art” said Rotter. “It was a formula well-suited to this December season, when the primary market focus traditionally shifts to this sector of the market. Given the tremendous depth of bidding and numerous auction records achieved, it was a sale strategy that proved ideal for this moment.”