By the Numbers: A Breakdown of Results From Sotheby’s the Now and Contemporary Evening Sales, November 2023
Get the stats behind the spin.
Another day, another auction marathon. Sotheby’s sold $305.7 million worth of contemporary art over three hours in New York on November 15. The evening consisted of two auctions, one focused on emerging art, the other on blue-chip offerings. Both were heavily propped up by in-house guarantees and irrevocable bids from investors. The strategy worked.
Below, the story by the numbers…
The Now sale
- Total Sales After Fees: $55.2 million
- Hammer Total: $46.7 million
- Top Seller: Julie Mehretu’s 2008 painting, Walkers With the Dawn and Morning (2008), hammered at $9.5 million (compared with a $7 million to $10 million presale estimate). The final price was $10.7 million, a new record for the artist.
- Lots on Offer: 19
- Lots Withdrawn: 1
- Lots Sold: 18
- Lots Bought In: 0
- Sell-through Rate: 94.7 percent
- Sell-through Rate After Withdrawals: 100 percent
- Presale Low Estimate: $43.7 million
- Presale Low Estimate After Withdrawals: $41.2 million
- Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate: +$3 million
- Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate (revised after withdrawals): +$5.5 million
- Total Low Estimate of Withdrawn Lots: $2.5 million
- Total Low Estimate of Guaranteed Lots: $39.1 million (89.5 percent of total presale low estimate)
- Lots Guaranteed: 12
- Lots With House Guarantees: 12
- Lots With Third-Party Guarantees: 9
- Total Low Estimate of Third-Party Guaranteed Lots: $34.9 million (79.9 percent of total presale low estimate)
- Lasting Memory: In a surprise move, Sotheby’s introduced a new evening-sale auctioneer: Phyllis Kao, vice president for client strategy in the Americas. Stylish and charismatic, she conducted the event with confidence and tempo, occasionally switching from English to Mandarin. A star is born.
- Quote of the Night: “I can do this all night,” Kao said as she took yet another bid in a protracted two-way bidding war for Mehretu’s monumental canvas, which set a new personal record and also became the highest auction price for an African-born artist.
- Parting Shot: Stay alert. To look better, auction houses now routinely withdraw lots from their sales while they are in progress. Consider lot 15, Mark Bradford’s 2006 collage on canvas titled Tina, which had been guaranteed by Sotheby’s, and was announced as withdrawn after Lot 14 hammered, presumably due to no interest. That didn’t stop Sotheby’s executive Brooke Lampley from presenting Kao with a white glove, symbolizing that every single lot found a buyer.
Contemporary Evening Sale
- Total Sales After Fees: $250.5 million
- Hammer Total: $214.7 million
- Top Seller: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two) hammered at $39 million, falling short of the estimated range of $40 million to $60 million.
- Lots on Offer: 46
- Lots Withdrawn: 0
- Lots Sold: 43
- Lots Bought In: 3
- Sell-through Rate: 93.5 percent
- Presale Low Estimate: $202 million
- Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate: +$12.7 million
- Total Low Estimate of Guaranteed Lots: $186.05 million (92.1 percent of total presale low estimate)
- Lots Guaranteed: 32
- Lots With House Guarantees: 32
- Lots With Third-Party Guarantees: 26
- Total Low Estimate of Third-Party Guaranteed Lots: $176.9 million (87.6 percent of total presale low estimate)
- Quote of the Night: “It happens to be Georgia O’Keeffe’s birthday today,” auctioneer Ollie Barker said as he tried to elicit an extra bid from one of four clients competing for O’Keeffe’s painting Pelvis. It hammered at $2.6 million (compared with a presale estimate of $1.2 million to $1.8 million).
- Next Sale Up: Sotheby’s concludes big semiannual sales in New York with its lower-value auctions, starting at 9 a.m. on Thursday, November 16.
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