Christie’s Turns in Solid $277 Million Contemporary Art Sale, Led by $66 Million De Kooning
Four artists saw new auction records.
Christie’s New York held a respectable $277 million sale of postwar and contemporary art on Tuesday night, led by a $66.3 million Willem de Kooning painting that far exceeded its $40 million estimate to set a record for the artist. New auction records were also notched for John Currin, Jean Dubuffet, Giuseppe Gallo, and Jonathan Horowitz.
The sale had been estimated to score between $216.6 million and $306.6 million; presale estimates are hammer prices, which do not include the house’s fees, whereas sales totals do. Tuesday evening’s hammer total was $239.5 million for Christie’s contemporary sale, coming in at the low end of the estimated range. The equivalent sale last year totaled $331.8 million with fees. Just seven works out of 61 on offer failed to find buyers Tuesday; 17 had been guaranteed to sell by the house or a third party.
Measuring over seven feet wide, Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XXV (1977) had come to auction once before, at Christie’s New York a decade earlier, when it fetched $27.1 million. Since Christie’s last sold the work, international head of postwar and contemporary art Brett Gorvy pointed out at a post-sale press conference, the artist’s market was buoyed by a 2011-12 retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, as well as hedge funder Ken Griffin’s headline-grabbing purchase of a major de Kooning canvas for $300 million. Tuesday’s sale doubled his previous auction high of $32 million, achieved at the same house in November 2013.
Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen pointed out after the sale that there was bidding from 41 countries, while Gorvy added that some 50 percent of bidders were American. He called that a testament to the market’s confidence—even after Republican Donald Trump’s victory in last Tuesday’s US presidential election.
Among the other top prices in the sale were achieved by Jean Dubuffet, Gerhard Richter, John Currin, and Robert Ryman.
Off the market for five decades, Jean Dubuffet’s Les Grandes Artères (1961) was the evening’s number two lot at $24.8 million, edging past its presale high estimate of $20 million. Tuesday’s price exceeded his existing record, of $23.8 million, set at Christie’s New York in May 2015 by a painting from the same year. The catalogue entry notes that Christie’s had a direct financial interest in the work.
A 7-foot-tall Gerhard Richter abstraction, Abstraktes Bild (809-2) (1994), came to the sale Tuesday from the collection of musician Eric Clapton, who bought it as one of part of a three-part work at Sotheby’s New York in 2001 for just $3.4 million. It fetched $22.1 million, within its estimated range, to come in as the third-highest price of the night. Clapton auctioned off the other two panels, between 2012 and 2013, for a total of $55.2 million. When the musician offered Abstraktes Bild (809-4) (1993) at Sotheby’s London in 2012, it fetched $34.2 million and set a record for a work by any living artist at auction.
Setting a record for Currin and coming in at third-priciest lot of the evening was Nice ‘n Easy (1999). It sold for $12 million, just even with the work’s low estimate. It more than doubled this painter’s previous high of $5.5 million, set at Sotheby’s New York in 2008 for the very same work, depicting two half-length nudes. Tuesday night’s seller was the buyer at Sotheby’s in 2008. The catalogue entry notes that Christie’s had a direct financial interest in this work as well.
Robert Ryman’s all-white, six-foot-square canvas Connect (2002) was yet another in which the house had a financial interest. The piece, which features in a forthcoming catalogue raisonné, edged past its low estimate to ring up $10.8 million, becoming the night’s fourth-priciest lot.
Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie has several works coming to auction this week. His Flight into Egypt (2008), estimated at up to $1.2 million, sold for $1.4 million, while The Bridge (2015), coming into the secondary market just a year after its creation and estimated to sell for at least $1.5 million, inspired a grueling four-and-a-half-minute contest among three bidders. The latter inspired a frustrated shout from New York dealer Tony Shafrazi, at the center of the crowded sale room, before it finally sold for $3.9 million to another bidder.
Coming to market during the run of her lauded retrospective now on view at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, Agnes Martin’s Untitled #6 (1983) went for $6.7 million, above its low estimate of $5 million. Her record stands at $10.7 million, set at Christie’s in May 2016. (Christie’s had a financial interest in the painting.) Tuesday’s seller had bought the canvas at Sotheby’s in 1990 for just $352,000. Another Martin, Untitled #9 (1988), came in at $4.3 million, edging past its $4 million low estimate.
Kicking off the sale, just one week after the election, was another record work, Jonathan Horowitz’s Obama ’08 (2008), showing photographs of all the former US presidents, with the first black president featured in the most recent spot. Estimated to sell for at least $100,000, the work doubled its low estimate to go for $223,500, far surpassing his previous high of $131,250, set at Sotheby’s New York in May 2015. Arranged in four rows of head shots, the work has one space at the end, reserved, in the end, for Donald J. Trump.
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