Christie’s $9.6 Million ‘First Open’ Sale Mixes Blue Chip Stars with Up-and-Comers

The auction house is testing the contemporary market's volatile edges.

Theodore Stamos Listening Hills Low Sun</i< (1957-58).
Image: Christie's Images Ltd.
Damien Hirs Beautiful, Exotic, Erotic, Divinely, Deep, Devil Painting (1995).  Image: Christie's Images Ltd.

Damien Hirst Beautiful, Exotic, Erotic, Divinely, Deep, Devil Painting (1995).
Image: Christie’s Images Ltd.

Auction houses continue to test the more volatile aspects of the contemporary market with mid-season sales offering a mix of work by emerging artists and lower-priced works by proven stars such as Damien Hirst and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Christie’s latest version of the “First Open” sale, aimed at new and younger collectors, follows this model. The September 30 auction in New York pulled in $9.6 million, against overall estimates of $9 million to $12 million. Of 352 lots offered, 244, or 70 percent, found buyers, resulting in 78 percent sold by value.

The top lot of the sale was a spin painting by Hirst titled Beautiful, Exotic, Erotic, Divinely, Deep, Devil, Painting (1995), which sold for $509,000 on an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. But that was just a fraction above the previous auction price. The consignor had acquired it in June 2012 at Sotheby’s London during a contemporary day sale, where it fetched $468,433 on an even more bullish estimate of $466,000 to $622,000 (£301,250 on an estimate of £300–400,000).

It speaks volumes about the prolific nature of Hirst’s market that one has to wade through more than 1,200 chronologically listed auction results in the artnet Price Database just to get back to results from three years ago.

Theodore Stamos Listening Hills Low Sun Image: Christie's Images Ltd.

Theodoros Stamos Listening Hills Low Sun.
Image: Christie’s Images Ltd.

The second-highest lot was an abstract painting by Theodoros Stamos, Listening Hills Low Sun (1957-58), that sold for $341,000 on an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. Another fresh-to-the-market abstract painting from the late 1950s—Michael Goldberg’s Dune House (1958)—was the third highest lot, selling for $269,000 on the same estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.

Michael Goldberg Dune House (195x). Image: Christie's Images Ltd.

Michael Goldberg Dune House (1958).
Image: Christie’s Images Ltd.

Georg Baselitz’s Peasant Petitioners Meeting V.I. Lenin (Serov) (1999), sold for $245,000, though expectations had been higher with its presale estimate set at $200,0000 to $300,000.

Alex Israel Untitled (Flat) (2013).  Photo: Christie's Images Ltd.

Alex Israel Untitled (Flat) (2013).
Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd.

While established blue-chip names clearly dominated the very top end of the sale, this First Open also included its fair share of much-buzzed about artists whose work is being carefully scrutinized at auction nowadays. These include Alex Israel, whose barely two-year old oval-shaped painting Untitled (Flat), made a brief stop with a private collector after being shown at Reena Spaulings Fine Art, and came to the auction block with an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000, before selling for $185,000.

Israel’s record at auction is a whopping $1.2 million for Sky Backdrop (2012), an acrylic on canvas that was estimated at just $200,000 to $300,000 and sold at Christie’s “If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday” sale, held in New York last May.

The sale also featured two works by the late Dash Snow. Poster (All Polaroids) (2006), a digital chromogenic print, sold for $100,000 on a $30,000–$40,000 estimate, while an untitled collage from 2006-2007 sold for $35,000 on a relatively modest estimate of $10,000–15,000.

An inkjet on canvas by artist and Brioni model Seth Price titled Windmill Gradient (2004) sold for $30,000 on an estimate of $15,000–20,000.

Two works by Oscar Murillo scored $25,000 a piece, though that price barely scratched the low estimate, and includes the final premium. Two untitled acrylic, graphic, and paper collages executed in 2012 sold for $25,000 on an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000.

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