Auction Blotter: Tschabalala Self’s 3,400% Return, Michael Armitage’s Big Debut, & More Market Sparks From New York’s Day Sales

We look at seven lots that took off at New York's day sales last week—and what they tell us about where the market is headed.

Michael Armitage, The Conservationists (2015). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

The evening sales may get most of the attention for their flash and eight-figure prices, but it’s the morning and afternoon sessions where the groundwork is laid for the market stars of the future. We poured over the results from last week’s November auctions in New York to pick the lots that stood out at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips. (As usual, all prices include the buyer’s premium unless otherwise noted.)


Venice Effect

This was 35-year-old Kenyan-born Michael Armitage’s auction debut, and it was a grand slam of perhaps historical proportions. Estimated to sell for between $50,000 and $70,000, his 2015 painting The Conservationists ended up fetching a whopping $1.52 million at Sotheby’s contemporary art day auction, more than 21 times its high estimate. The extremely lucky consignor, a New York collector, bought the work at White Cube’s London gallery in late 2015—and just pulled off the flip of a lifetime. The timing could not have been better: Armitage is still basking in the post-Venice glow after having his surreal paintings well received at this year’s Biennale. He also has the enviable distinction of being one of the youngest artists to inaugurate the newly expanded Museum of Modern Art: he has a solo presentation on MoMA’s first-floor gallery in its first partnership with the Studio Museum in Harlem.


Young Gun

Lucas Arruda, Untitled (2018). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

David Zwirner has repped the 36-year-old Lucas Arruda since last year and opened his first show at the gallery’s New York space in September. In addition, the gallery brought his new work to Frieze in London and FIAC in Paris, selling paintings for prices between $75,000 and $80,000. There’s plenty of buzz around the gauzy abstracted, neo-Zombie Formalist landscapes, and many market watchers were waiting for Arruda’s first secondary market test. Well, he passed with flying colors. When one work bought from Zwirner in 2018 was offered during the Sotheby’s day sale Friday, it quickly went past its $120,000 high estimate and sold for $312,500.


Flip to Win 

Tschabalala Self, Star, (2015). Courtesy of Phillips.

In 2015, paintings by the then-25-year-old Tschabalala Self were selling for $10,000 out of New York’s Thierry Goldberg Gallery. So when a California-based collector snapped up Star (2015) from the Los Angeles gallery Diane Rosenstein, the work probably cost around the same amount. Fast forward four years and Self’s market has exploded, spurring the California collector to consign Star to Phillips, where it was offered in last week’s afternoon sale. Estimated to bring in between $80,000 and $120,000, the painting instead went for $350,000, a 3,400 percent increase in value for a very savvy buyer-turned-seller.


A Posthumous Market

Noah Davis, Single Mother With Father out of the Picture (2007–8). Courtesy of Phillips.

Noah Davis died in 2015, tragically, at the age of 32 from a rare form of cancer. Since then, his legacy has lived on through both his art and through the Underground Museum, the institution he co-founded with his wife, Karon, a sculptor, in the Arlington Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, which continues to offer a full slate of programming and community outreach programs. But until this year, no work by the artist had come up for auction. In May, a painting estimated at $10,000 to $15,000 sold for $47,500, and when a more ambitious portrait, Single Mother with Father out of the Picture (2007–8) was consigned to Phillips last week, it was estimated at $40,000 to $60,000—but instead sold for $168,750. Look for more paintings by the late, great Noah Davis to come up for auction in 2020.


Pricey Way to Skip the Waiting List

Shara Hughes, Georgia (2007). Courtesy of Christie’s.

Season after season, it just gets more and more clear—everyone wants to get their hands on a Shara Hughes. The American painter’s landscapes look like what might happen if you merged Ernst Ludwig Kirchner with David Hockney and then ran the result through an Instagram filter. Her dealer, Rachel Uffner has noted that, on the primary market, there is a wait list, as there is for many in-demand artists. And so those who need a Hughes now have to bid for them at auction, pushing the prices higher and higher. In the last few months, Hughes saw her auction record break at Christie’s London in October and then again last week, when a painting estimated to sell for between $60,000 and $80,000 went for $337,500 at Christie’s day sale.


Proud Provenance

Josef Albers, Homage to the Square: Silent Gray (1955). Courtesy of Phillips.

Not all works in the day sales are consigned by flippers looking to make a buck or two reselling something they got a year earlier. To wit: the seller of Josef Albers’s Homage to the Square: Silent Gray (1955), pioneering interior designer Florence Knoll Bassett, who died earlier this year at the age of 101. Bassett kept the work in her collection for more than 60 years after she bought it from Sidney Janis Gallery in 1958. And just like in the evening sales, that kind of provenance pays off. Estimated to sell for $400,000 to $600,000, the work went for $1.3 million.


…And Here’s Another KAWS

KAWS, COMPANION (PASSING THROUGH) (2011). Courtesy of Phillips.

If you did a double take when you saw the KAWS sculpture COMPASSION (BREAKING THROUGH) (2011) in the catalogue for last week’s afternoon sale at Phillips, there’s a reason for that: you may have seen it before. The sculpture of KAWS’s signature figure hiding with his head in his hands comes from an edition of 10 plus two artist proofs. What’s more, another work from that same edition just went up for sale at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong last month, where it sold for $550,409. And yet there are still plenty of people who will pay a lot of money to live with these things. The one at Phillips sold for $836,000, over a high estimate of $400,000. The KAWS Kraze lives to fight another day.

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