The Back Room: A Taste for the Finer Things

This week: everybody wins in auction week's sequel, the results of Art Basel’s solidarity fund, Giacometti meets the metaverse, and more.

A tuxedoed Oliver Barker works the bidders during the Macklowe Collection sale. Photo courtesy Sotheby's. Illustration by Artnet News.

Every Friday, Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access to the Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy. 


This week in the Back Room: everybody wins in auction week’s sequel, the results of Art Basel’s solidarity fund, Giacometti meets the metaverse, and more—all in a 7-minute read (1,995 words).


Programming Note: The Back Room will be on hiatus next Friday for the Thanksgiving holiday but will return to help wrap up Art Basel Miami Beach the week after.


Top of the Market

Growing Up, Growing Out

Ewa Juszkiewicz's Girl in Blue 2013

Ewa Juszkiewicz, Girl in Blue, 2013. Courtesy Phillips.

Last Friday, with two major New York evening sales down and five still to go, I framed this newsletter around an uncomfortable question burbling up around the business like a bad case of acid reflux: Is a critical mass of buyers deserting Modern and even postwar artists for talent that has emerged in the last 40 years?

But with the premier fall sales cycle now complete, it’s safe to say the results have settled an awful lot of stomachs around the industry, particularly at Christie’sSotheby’s, and Phillips.

A typhoon of cash flooded across the art-historical timeline in the Empire City’s auctions, showering millions on works by artists ranging from Vincent van Gogh and Gustave Caillebotte, to Avery Singer and Amy Sherald.

The Big Three houses amassed over $2 billion in combined sales even before Sotheby’s held its final two evening auctions Thursday. At times, it felt like the only pieces not selling were the ones not being offered.

In last week’s Back Room, I pegged two of this week’s auctions as especially useful indicators of whether buyers’ tastes have indeed changed in a market-moving way: Sotheby’s first bout with the postwar-white-dude-dominant Macklowe Collection, and the dependably ultra-current 20th century and contemporary evening sale at Phillips.

In retrospect, I feel pretty good about that call. Here’s how they fared. (Sales figures include the buyer’s premium; hammer prices and presale estimates do not.)



  • Date: Monday, November 15
  • Total Sales: $676.1 million, far north of its…
  • Presale Estimate Range: In excess of $400 million
  • Offered: 35 lots
  • Guaranteed: 35 lots (22 of them backed by third parties)
  • Sell-through Rate: 100 percent
  • Top Seller: Mark Rothko’s No. 7 (1951), which hammered at $77.5 million and reached $82.5 million with premium (short of his $86.9 million auction record).
  • Other Notable Lots: Alberto Giacometti’s Le Nez (1947), this newsletter’s Work of the Week (below); Jackson Pollock’s Number 17, 1951 blasted past its $35 million high estimate to set a new artist record at $61.6 million; and Agnes Martin’s Untitled #44 more than doubled its rosiest presale expectation to land at $17.7 million, another artist record.
  • Takeaway: The demand for these works was as real as it gets, and nothing expresses that better than the hammer total ($590 million) beating the presale high estimate by almost 50 percent.



  • Date: Wednesday, November 17
  • Total Sales: $137.9 million, well above its…
  • Presale Estimate Range: In excess of $100 million
  • Offered: 46 lots
  • Withdrawn: Two lots (Milton Avery’s Brown Bolero (1957) and Barkley L. Hendricks’s FTA, from 1968)
  • Guaranteed: 11 lots (all backed by third parties)
  • Sell-through Rate: 96 percent (92 percent counting withdrawn lots)
  • Top Seller: Francis Bacon’s Pope With Owls (ca. 1958) at $33 million, beneath the $35 million low estimate.
  • Other Notable Lots: Shara Hughes’s Inside Out (2018) more than quadrupled its high estimate to set a new record for the artist at $1.5 million; Ewa Juszkiewicz’s Girl in Blue (2013) went more than 6x its presale high to do the same, reaching $730,800; and the two passed lots were by Willem de Kooning (low estimate: $800,000) and Wassily Kandinsky (low estimate: $2 million).
  • Takeaway: Despite an underwhelming result for the Bacon (by far the priciest work in the sale), as well as Christie’s and Sotheby’s siphoning off some of the hot ultra-contemporary works that traditionally define Phillips’s offerings, bidding wars for numerous lots by living artists propelled the house to its richest-ever net earnings for a single auction—and proved that the current global market is too hungry and too deep to force either/or choices about genre right now.


The Bottom Line


Between the Cox Collection and the Macklowe Collection, we should remember that most of the Modern and postwar works on offer in New York the past two weeks were of extraordinary quality and pedigree. A less heralded supply of oldies might have left the market with a narrower, more distressing perception of collectors’ preferences.

However, we have to evaluate based on what actually mounted the block. In the aggregate, results from the full evening slate strongly backed the perspective that Phillips deputy chairman Robert Manley offered during sales previews, when anxiety about the viability of older works seemed to peakthe story is “not so much taste change as taste expansion.”

Now it’s on the houses to keep consigning enough premium 19th and 20th century works to satisfy buyers’ newly broad palates.


This Week’s Full Sales Reports


Paint Drippings

Libbie Mugrabi and David Mugrabi in April 2018. Photo by Patrick McMullan, ©Patrick McMullan.

Libbie Mugrabi and David Mugrabi in April 2018. Photo by Patrick McMullan, ©Patrick McMullan.

In the latest Wet Paint, Annie Armstrong checked in on a rocky art breakup more recent than Harry and Linda Macklowe’s: the split between Libbie and David Mugrabi, which somehow winds through a court filing to reopen the settled divorce case, the emergence of a lawsuit from a canned-pumpkin brand, and $125 trucker hats.

She also swims through the internet to surface another new reality of auction houses’ love affair with NFTs: when a crypto work fails to meet its reserve, a specialist like Christie’s digital-art czar Noah Davis may just take it straight to a different type of public forum: Discord.

Here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…


Art Fairs

  • Wealthy millennial Chinese collectors were out in force at Shanghai’West Bund and ART021 fairs last week, snapping up hot names and emerging artists at prices up to $1.5 million. (Artnet News Pro)
  • The debut edition of ART SG has been pushed back (again), this time from January 2022 to January 2023, amid ongoing concerns about the pandemic. The expo was first set to take place in 2019. (Press release)
  • Art Basel’s parent company, MCH Group, has called off next year’s edition of Baselworld, its flagship luxury watch trade show, saying it needs more time to follow up the event’s 2019 iteration. (Bloomberg)


Auction Houses

  • Here are the 15 priciest works sold at auction globally in October, if you’re fiending for a more retrospective look at the sector. (Artnet News Pro)



  • Marianne Boesky now reps ascendant Dallas-based figurative painter Jammie Holmes (in collaboration with his Detroit gallery, Library Street Collective). Boesky will include Holmes’s work in its Basel Miami booth and will open his first New York solo show in fall 2022. (Press release)
  • David Zwirner launched Utopia Editions, a new publisher of original prints by contemporary artists. The operation will be overseen by Elleree Erdos, who joined the gallery in August as director of prints and multiples. First out of the gate are three prints from Marcel Dzama, each in an edition of 75, priced at $2,500 per. (Artnet News)
  • Lehmann Maupin will open a new two-floor, 2,600-square-foot gallery space in Seoul’s Hannam-dong neighborhood in early spring 2022, near key art spaces like Storage by Hyundai Card and the Leeum Museum of Art. Its first exhibition will be a Lari Pittman solo. (Press release)



  • The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago appointed René Morales its chief curator and Jamillah James its senior curator, filling voids left by the departures of Michael Darling and Naomi Beckwith, respectively. Both new hires are scheduled to start in January. (Artnet News)
  • Philanthropist Olivia Walton will take over from Alice Walton as chair of the board at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. (The museum remains a family affair: Olivia is married to Alice’s nephew.) (Press release)
  • Lauded curator Christopher Y. Lew is exiting the Whitney Museum of American Art after seven years to join a yet-to-be-revealed nonprofit and start-up. (ARTnews)


NFTs and More

  • Pace announced it will launch its NFT platform, Pace Verso, this Monday with a suite of works by Lucas Samaras. The initiative will be led by online sales director Christiana Ine-Kimba Boyle. (Artnet News)
  • Artists Jen Stark and Daniel Arsham (and musician Pharrell) have joined the advisory council for a new coalition of NFT creators called CXIP DAO. CXIP, which provides secure NFT-minting technology, has invited every creator who has ever minted an NFT with ETH to join and have a say in managing the community treasury. (Twitter)
  • Josh Baer and Sotheby’s alum Liz Sterling will launch their own “affordable” membership-based advisory firm during ABMB. (Wet Paint)
  • Yieldstreet debuted the Art Equity Platform, where smaller investors can purchase shares in portfolios of postwar and contemporary artworks. Its first offering will be an under-$10 million fund including works by George CondoKeith Haring, and Kenny Scharf; minimum investment is $10,000 over a five-year holding period. (CNBC)

[Read More]


Data Dip

Solidarity Now

© 2021 Artnet News.

© 2021 Artnet News.

When Art Basel announced it would offer a portion of a $1.6 million “one-time solidarity fund” to all dealers who honored their prior commitment to exhibit at the fair this September, I called the initiative one of the most compelling social experiments in art-market history. Individual payouts would vary depending on how many dealers opted out of the fund—a choice each exhibitor would only have to make once the event ended.

How many galleries would really turn down free money regardless of their sales results and their choice’s impact on peers and rivals?

The answer, it turned out, was 175 of the 272 exhibitors, or nearly two-thirds. The split means a roughly 35 percent cost reduction for each of the 97 dealers who opted in.

Art Basel global director Marc Spiegler called the results a reflection of the “collegial” spirit among galleries at the fair. They’re also proof that the big auction houses weren’t the only ones able to generate a feel-good story this week.

[Read More]


“This is the collection of a generation that’s passing—an old white man’s collection… Yes, these things are always going to be great, but is this what a young tech billionaire wants? I don’t think so.”


—Collector and Venus Over Manhattan gallerist Adam Lindemann on the future prospects of works from the Macklowe collection after their $676 million opening romp at Sotheby’s Monday night. (The New York Times)


Artwork of the Week

Alberto Giacometti’s Le Nez (The Nose)

Alberto Giacometti, Le Nez Conceived in 1947; this version conceived in 1949 and cast in 1965. Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Alberto Giacometti, Le Nez
Conceived in 1947; this version conceived in 1949 and cast in 1965.
Image courtesy Sotheby’s.


Date:                    1947 / 1965
Seller:                  Harry and Linda Macklowe

Sale Price:           $78.4 million
Estimate:             $70 million to $90 million 
Sold at:                Sotheby’s Macklowe Collection auction


How’s this for a counter-narrative? Hours after Adam Lindemann judged the Macklowe collection obsolete to the next generation of tech billionaires, Justin Sun, the Chinese-born 31-year-old tech billionaire behind web3 infrastructure company TRON and file-sharing network BitTorrent, took to Twitter to out himself as the winner of the megasale’s second-priciest lot.

The plot kept twisting from there. Sun announced he would donate Le Nez to his APENFT Foundation to enable “our community to have the opportunity to appreciate it through online and offline channels and get inspiration from it.” The foundation connects to a larger crypto venture that (according to its white paper) aims to register great artworks on the blockchain, as well as raise funds, make grants, and provide guidance to artists working to diversify culture as a part of the forthcoming metaverse.

In late October, APENFT launched the $100,000 Art Dream Fund to power this effort; the announcement included an estimate of more than $46 million for its collection, then led by works from PicassoWarholBeeple, and Murat Pak (some of which you can see on the APENFT website). But Le Nez won’t be the only new addition driving up the collection’s value.

Sun also pledged that two of his other recent auction acquisitions would join the Giacometti in APENFT’s vaults and, soon after, on the blockchain: KAWS’s Untitled (Kimpsons) (2001), bought for HK$2.5 million ($323,647) from a Sotheby’s sale organized by Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou; and Pak’s Cube (2021), an NFT-backed digital work awarded to Sun for acquiring the most Open Edition cubes by the artist (priced at $1,500 each) during Sotheby’s first ever NFT auction in April. Looks like the metaverse just got a lot more blue-chip…


Additional reporting and writing by Naomi Rea. 


Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.

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