By The Numbers: A Breakdown of Results From Christie’s 21st-Century Evening Sale, May 2024

Let the numbers tell the story.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Italian Version of Popeye Has No Pork in His Diet, 1982. Photo courtesy Christie's.

On Tuesday night, Christie’s immediately followed its de la Cruz sale with its regular 21st-century evening auction. As the proceedings began, the audience was stunned to learn that the house had decided to pull its star lot, Brice Marden’s Event (2004–07), which graced the cover of the sale’s catalogue. Carrying a lofty minimum estimate of $30 million, it had been guaranteed by the house. Read on for a breakdown of the action.

Total Sales After Fees: $80.3 million

Total Sales of Equivalent Sale Last Year: $98.8 million 

Hammer Total: $66.5 million 

Top Seller: Jean-Michel Basquiat’s The Italian Version of Popeye has no Pork in his Diet (1982), which sold for $32 million

Lots on Offer: 35 

Lots Withdrawn: 3 

Lots Sold: 32 

Lots Bought In: 0 

Sell-through Rate: 91 percent 

Sell-through Rate After Withdrawals: 100 percent 

Presale Low Estimate: $104 million 

Presale Low Estimate After Withdrawals: $71.3 million 

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate:  -$37.5 million 

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate (revised after withdrawals): -$4.8 million 

Lots Guaranteed: 6 

Lots With House Guarantees: 2 (including the withdrawn Brice Marden) 

Lots With Third-Party Guarantees: 4 

Total Low Estimate of Withdrawn Lots: $32.7 million 

Total Low Estimate of Guaranteed Lots: $38.6 million (37 percent of original total presale low estimate) 

Total Low Estimate of Third-Party Guaranteed Lots: $8.6 million (12 percent of revised total presale low estimate) 

Quote of the Night: “You don’t even have a paddle,” auctioneer Georgina Hilton said during the last moments of bidding for the top lot of the night, the $32 million Basquiat. As Hilton prepared to bring down the hammer, a gentleman in the room with a cellphone glued to his ear suddenly stood up and shouted, “Hold on!” He walked to a corner of the auction room, clearly grappling with a bad connection; soon after, he disappeared. The Basquiat was then sold to a patient client, bidding through a Christie’s specialist, for a hammer price of $27.5 million.

Lasting Memory: Everyone wants to know the story behind the withdrawn Brice Marden. In the lead-up to the sale, it was marketed as a major attraction, and the fact that it was guaranteed by the auction house only further deepened the mystery.

Parting shot: After the sale, one Christie’s client discussing the hack told me: “They are putting on a happy face in a brutal situation.”

Next Sale Up: Sotheby’s modern art evening sale on Wednesday night.

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