The Back Room: Pivot Point

This week: auction week’s emerging themes, an art-fair flurry, Mike Bidlo’s surprise rise, and much more—all in a 7-minute read.

A spectator takes in Andy Warhol's Shot Sage Blue Marilyn during a preview of Christie's 20th and 21st Century art sales. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images) 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: Auction week’s emerging themes, an art-fair flurry, Mike Bidlo’s surprise rise, and much more—all in a 7-minute read (1,858 words).


Top of the Market

Wrapped Up in the Middle

Ewa Juszkiewicz, Portrait of a Lady (After Louis Leopold Boilly) (2019). Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

Ewa Juszkiewicz, Portrait of a Lady (After Louis Leopold Boilly) (2019). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd.

It’s still much too early to draw solid conclusions from the Big Three auction houses’ marquee May sales, but this week’s results suggest a few themes worth monitoring when the second phase of the cycle unfolds next week.

As a reminder, only Christie’s major evening auctions are in the books. Sotheby’s three-night hammer fest begins Monday with its second dedicated sale of works from the Macklowe collection. Phillips will hold its lone evening auction Wednesday.

That means we have more to learn than we know so far. Still, whatever happens next should be compared against four trends that appear to be in motion now.

Thin Air at the Price Peak

There were certainly some exuberant trophy sales during the week, especially for Monet and Picasso works Thursday. But for those hoping lucrative bidding wars would ignite over most or all of the season’s premier lots, Christie’s hosted at least one major letdown every night.

Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964), the crown jewel of Monday’s Thomas and Doris Ammann evening sale, hammered to Larry Gagosian at just $170 million ($195 million with fees), beneath its $200 million presale estimate. (Gagosian was mum about whether he was the end buyer.)

Christie’s and the consignor withdrew an estimated $34 million to $36 million worth of Jean-Michel Basquiat works from Tuesday’s 21st century evening auction. Another anchor lot, a Gerhard Richter abstract estimated to bring $35 million, also hammered on a single bid to its third-party guarantor for $33 million ($36.5 million with fees).

Thursday night, the works with the two highest estimates in the Anne Bass sale—a pair of red Mark Rothko abstracts—each hammered $2 million beneath their respective low estimates, selling for $58 million and $43 million before fees.

It’s hard to imagine the entire auction sector wasn’t hoping for more, or that the anxiety level at Sotheby’s and Phillips hasn’t escalated considerably in the wake of these results.

Young Artists Shattering Expectations

Of the 10 records set at Christie’s 21st century evening sale, four belonged to artists aged 40 or younger and soared into the millions of dollars: Anna Weyant ($1.5 million)Ewa Juszkiewicz ($1.6 million)Shara Hughes ($2.9 million), and posthumously, Matthew Wong ($5.3 million).

Multiple other ultra-contemporary artists crushed their high estimates and flirted with their previous hammer highs, including Salman ToorMaría Berrío, and Issy Wood.

Nearly all of these names have one or more works mounting the block next week. Several others from their age group could see their own auction records shattered, too—that is, if this past week’s hunger for youth continues.

Asian Collectors Narrowing Their Focus

The continent’s collectors accounted for just 10 percent of bidding activity at the Ammann sale, per Christie’s. Gagosian faced no competition at all from Christie’s Hong Kong salesroom for the Marilyn.

The same was true for the Richter In the 21st century sale. Works by other established contemporary favorites like Christopher WoolMark Grotjahn, and Adrian Ghenie sold on single bids, with little visible activity among Christie’s Asia-based specialists.

But the latter auction was still driven by “fierce bidding from Asia” on many of the rising-star lots, Katya wrote, with the Hong Kong salesroom winning several. No wonder Christie’s flew in Georgina Hilton, its head of classic art in the Asia Pacific, to conduct the New York sale.

A Counter-trend ‘80s Revival

While the most hotly pursued young artists were still predominantly women and/or people of color, this week’s sales also posted unexpectedly strong results for 1980s works by white male artists beneath auction-darling level, including Francesco ClementeEnzo Cucchi, the late Donald BaechlerPeter Halley, and Ross Bleckner.

There were even a few record-setting results from this cohort: $4.1 million for a 1982 Eric Fischl painting, $2.3 million for a Helmut Newton photo shot in 1980, and $1.3 million for a 1987 Mike Bidlo canvas (see Work of the Week for details).

Are these surprisingly big numbers anomalies largely sparked by the Ammann provenance? Or signs that a critical mass of buyers thinks the market has now overcorrected for its ethnic and gender biases, once again making the best speculative plays white guys from the Reagan era?


The Bottom Line

Next week’s sales could complicate or reverse any of these four themes. The immediate future is even more unpredictable than usual since the stock, bond, and crypto markets remain in freefall, meaning collector psychology could vary dramatically based on each bidder’s larger investment allocation.

The only certainty is that, between the remaining evening auctions and the pending day sales, we should have enough relevant data to get a clearer sense of the market’s trajectory soon. For now, at least we’ve established the priors to check those coming results against.



Paint Drippings

Banksy, Love is in the Air (2005), purchased at Sotheby's this year by Particle. Courtesy of Particle.

Banksy, Love is in the Air (2005), purchased at Sotheby’s this year by Particle. Courtesy of Particle.

The latest Wet Paint teases out the curious business of Particle, rainmaker Loïc Gouzer’s platform offering fractional investment in blue-chip artworks via NFTs. A close read of the fine print reveals that “investors” are unlikely to see a tangible return of any kind, because the underlying works (and a majority of the fractional shares) are all donated to the nonprofit Particle Foundation, which has no plans to resell, ever, per Particle CEO Harold Eytan.

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

Art Fairs

  • Works flew off the walls of Independent, where Page NYC pre-sold its entire booth of paintings by Zoé Blue M. ($20,000 to $30,000 each), Kasmin placed nine works by vanessa german ($30,000 to $45,000 each), and Berlin‘s Peres Projects sold out its stand of Paulo Salvador paintings. (Artnet News)
  • Digital art blended seamlessly with tangible art at NADA New York, as buyers snapped up everything from $10 ephemeral computerized dogs at Now Here gallery, to a $20,000 sculpture (titled Cryptohoarder) by Stefan Rinck at Nino Mier gallery. (Artnet News)
  • We assembled a mini buyer’s guide to five artists who made a splash during New York Art Week, including Mickey LeeGori Mora, and Julia Jo. (Artnet News Pro)


Auction Houses

  • Here’s an indispensable primer on the anchor lots in New York’s spring auction cycle. (Artnet News)
  • Want to know who consigned some of those same major lots (and more)? Katya has you covered. (Artnet News Pro)



  • Anna Weyant is joining Gagosian gallery, which will represent her globally and stage a solo exhibition of her work this fall. But as a number of Weyant paintings come up for auction, rumors are swirling that her ugly break with Blum & Poe has prompted her former dealers to engage in “revenge consignments.” (Artnet News Pro)
  • David Zwirner is launching an online tool enabling art sellers to submit works for evaluation and possible resale through the gallery. (Artnet News)
  • Gallery Weekend Beijing, originally scheduled to kick off May 31, has been postponed until further notice as China’s capital city ratchets up its pandemic lockdown. (Press release)



  • The Guggenheim Museum is the latest institution to quietly phase out the Sackler name, rechristening its arts education center in agreement with the family. (Artnet News)
  • Paris‘s Centre Pompidou has halted a proposed $619,000 gift from Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin, but it will not return his previous donations used to acquire more than 250 artworks. (Artnet News)
  • The Association of Art Museum Directors has closed the two-year pandemic window permitting museums to use proceeds from deaccessioned artwork for “direct care of the collection,” and attitudes toward the controversial policy remain largely unchanged. (The Art Newspaper)


NFTs and More

  • Russian website called Art for Victory is fundraising for war efforts by selling NFTs and art, including a Kandinsky painting asking €8 million ($8.4 million) despite suspicions of forgery. (The Art Newspaper)
  • The estate of the late art dealer Daniel Wildenstein has reached a roughly $17 million settlement with the IRS over alleged unpaid taxes on the family’s estates. (ARTnews)
  • The nonprofit arm of the Tezos blockchain network is building a £1 million ($1.2 million) NFT collection to be overseen by photographer and NFT collector Misan Harriman. (Financial Times)


Data Dip

Checking the Trophy Case

© 2022 Artnet Worldwide Corporation.

© 2022 Artnet Worldwide Corporation.

The restrained interest in Shot Sage Blue Marilyn and some of this week’s other trophy lots was even more surprising given that sales in the highest price bracket accounted for the largest year-over-year spike in the art market in 2021.

  • As confidence returned to the trade last year, total sales of works that fetched more than $10 million rose almost 130 percent versus 2020, to $4.3 billion worldwide.
  • That sum is also a 66 percent improvement on 2019 (the last pre-pandemic year), when a low supply of eight-figure gems meant sales in this bracket topped out at $2.6 billion.
  • But since 2017, works sold in the price band between $1 million and $10 million have led all others annually, bringing between $4.1 billion and $4.7 billion in total sales.

For more info on how part one of the Macklowe sale impacted these totals, as well as the other factors affecting price distribution, download the Spring 2022 Artnet Intelligence Report below.

[Read More]


“Artwork is [sometimes] used as a tool to snub a competitor, exact revenge on an ex, file high-profile and widely publicized charges against an enemy, or simply make someone jealous… It is surprising that some collectors have sophisticated and refined taste in art, but then use their art in vindictive or childish ways.”


Leila Amineddoleh, an attorney specializing in art and intellectual property law, contextualizing the long-running, hilariously petty legal dispute between “Bond King” Bill Gross and his Malibu neighbors over Gross’s outdoor Dale Chihuly sculpture. (Town & Country)


Work of the Week

Mike Bidlos’s Not Picasso (Bather With Beachball, 1932)

Mike Bidlo, <i>Not Picasso (Bather With Beachball, 1932)</i> (1987). Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Mike Bidlo, Not Picasso (Bather With Beachball, 1932) (1987). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.


Date:                    1987
Seller:                  The Thomas and Doris Ammann Estate

Estimate:             $60,000 to $80,000 
Sale Price:           $1.3 million
Selling at:            Christie’s New York
Sale date:            May 9


One of the Ammann sale’s biggest stunners wasted no time in arriving. The opening lot, a 1987 Mike Bidlo painting titled Not Picasso (Bather with Beachball, 1932), blew past all expectations to sell for a Picasso-like price of $1.3 million. That’s triple the U.S. conceptual artist’s previous auction record, and nearly a million dollars more than the $37,500 that the work commanded when it last went under the hammer in 2009.

The painting is Bidlo’s riff on a Picasso canvas of (almost) the same name in MoMA’s collection. It’s also a prime example of the Ammann siblings’ taste for appropriation art. Other examples that vaulted over their high estimates in the collection’s evening auction included a Sturtevant play on Roy Lichtenstein ($2.2 million against an $800,000 top projection) and another Picasso homage by Sean Landers ($120,000 against a $60,000 expectation).

More of the Ammanns’ appropriative acquisitions will mount the block in Christie’s contemporary day sale on Friday. Among them is a second Bidlo, this time toying with one of Andy Warhol’s “Dance Diagram” works. Its top estimate of $60,000 starts it in the same vicinity as Not Picasso (Bather with Beachball, 1932). If this one too lands north of $1 million (or anywhere close), one of the week’s funner surprises will start to feel like something more.


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

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