The analysis of the December 8 Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale 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.)
On Tuesday, Sotheby’s capped the year with a final hybrid live-streamed evening auction titled “Impressionist, Modern & Contemporary Art | An Evening Sale” at its New York headquarters that generated $63.3 million with buyers fees, across 23 lots sold, realizing a 92 percent sell-through rate. The sale hammered at $52.9 million, in the middle of the pre-sale estimate range of $40.1 million-$58.6 million. That the sale managed to perform so well was likely because five lots by Paul Delvaux, Marc Chagall, Milton Avery, Paul Cézanne and Edvard Munch were withdrawn before the sale began. Had those works been included, the stakes would have been higher. Only two of the remaining 25 lots failed to find buyers.
The total was a modest sum compared to Sotheby's $283.9 million evening sale on October 28th; Tuesday night's hour-long auction occupied a tame energy, missing the usual cameos from top specialists like Amy Cappellazzo and Brooke Lampley, whose animated bidding and wry expressions typically add a suggestion of a backstory to the saleroom drama. The year-end finale auction captured an overall trend in the industry: to keep up with demand, smaller evening sales are staged more frequently throughout each season. What remains to be seen is whether these sales will accelerate as the pandemic eases. If they do, will the traditional "marquee" week become a thing of the past?
Fifteen of the sold lots were backed with guarantees or irrevocable bids, their collective low estimate sum of $33 million represented 82 percent of the sale’s pre-estimated total. Only a few months ago, guarantees seemed like a vestige of a different era as eager sellers eschewed down-side protection in favor of upside rewards. But the pandemic has watched the art market go from an appetite for works perceived to be a bargain to a picky market focused on a few favored artists.
For the second time, Sotheby’s shot a pre-show video hosted by writer and public radio host Kurt Andersen. This time, the program’s specialist interviews served to promote items from the luxury and auxiliary sales including vintage watches, books and manuscripts sales and Ansel Adams photographs from the upcoming David Arrington collection sale in mid-December.
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