Here Are the Top Lots at the $1.4 Billion New York Evening Sales This Week

A Jean-Michel Basquiat could sell for as much as $60 million during the bellwether auctions of modern and contemporary art.

Installation view of Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer Crouching (1966). Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Cautious optimism is in the air as the major May sales of modern and contemporary art kick off this week in New York. Questions about the state of the market loom, and the volume of material on offer is down from previous years at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips. However, art advisor Todd Levin said that there may be fewer instances of houses pulling works mid-sale, for lack of interest—a common sight of late. “This time around it appears like all the auction houses have really gotten serious,” he said. “It took a couple of rounds but the auctions are much tighter now.”

There are fewer collections coming from estates than in other years, and those estates are smaller, but material amassed by the late Miami collector Rosa de la Cruz and the screenwriter and producer Norman Lear collection will be closely watched, art advisor Megan Fox Kelly said. “The auction houses really built these sales brick by brick, consignment by consignment,” she said. “I don’t see collectors feeling compelled to ‘cash in’ right now by selling works they own unless an artist’s auction market looks particularly compelling.”

What’s trending right now? “We’ve seen a resurgence of interest in Impressionism after a period of it feeling rather flat,” Fox Kelly said. “New buyers are turning their attention to that market. It has to be the right picture, of course, but when something great and fresh to market comes up, we’re seeing pretty competitive bidding and new price levels.”

Phillips, the perennial third-place house, has the highest-estimated lot of the week, a fresh-to-the-market Jean-Michel Basquiat that it believes could go for as much as $60 million.

While estimated totals and volume are lower overall, there are some intriguing upticks. Phillips’s evening sale has a low estimate of $90 million this year, up from $73 million last fall. Meanwhile, Christie’s 21st-century evening sale has a $104 million low estimate, just above its $99 million low estimate last fall, and Sotheby’s contemporary evening sale has a low estimate of $217 million now versus $202 million last fall.

Read on for a breakdown of the priciest lots on offer at each evening sale this week.

Monday, May 13
The Now at Sotheby’s

A mostly black and white color painting with two figures sitting on a brick wall underneath pink hearts

Kerry James Marshall, Vignette #6 (2005). Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Star Lot: Kerry James Marshall, Vignette #6 (2005)

Presale estimate: $7 million to $10 million

What you should know: Marshall is one of the top-selling Black contemporary artists working today, with an auction record of $21 million set in 2018, following an acclaimed solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His second-highest price at auction, $18.5 million, was for a work from the same “vignettes” series that was estimated slightly lower than this current one. This one carries a guarantee from the auction house.

Marshall started the “vignettes” series in 2003 as a way of responding to Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s famous series of Rococo paintings “The Progress of Love” (1771–73). According to Sotheby’s, Vignette #6 “epitomizes the revolutionary reassessment of the Western canon and exploration of Black identity and representation that characterizes” the artist’s oeuvre.

Monday, May 13
Contemporary Evening Art at Sotheby’s

an image of a painting by Francis Bacon showing his friend George Dyer Crouching on a cylindrical object

Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer Crouching (1966). Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Star Lot: Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer Crouching (1966)

Presale estimate: $30 million to $50 million

What you should know: Bacon is at the top of the mountain when it comes to the most-sought-after artists on the international contemporary market, famous for his torqued, often tortured-looking subjects. The people in his pictures often appear to be caught in some kind of internal crisis or storm that is rendered in violent, near-dizzying brushstrokes. This work, which has never appeared at auction before, is likely to incite a bidding war and is among the most expensive on offer all week.

The 1966 painting depicts George Dyer, the artist’s great love and muse. Their relationship sparked some of the most dramatic peaks and valleys of Bacon’s life. Executed at a high point in their relationship, it is the first of a cycle of ten single-panel paintings that Bacon created.


Tuesday, May 14
Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Art Sale at Phillips

A painting with a blue and yellow background featuring graffiti style markings and a red stick figure

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (ELMAR) (1982). Image courtesy of Phillips.

Star Lot: Jean-Michel Basquiat Untitled (ELMAR), 1982

Estimate: $40 million to $60 million

What you need to know: This monumental Basquiat is the priciest lot of the week, and it is one of three major Basquiats that Phillips is selling from the collection of anthropologist Francesco Pellizzi. ELMAR and Portrait of a Famous Baseball Player (1981) are being sold in New York, while Native Carrying Some Guns, Bibles, Amorites on Safari (1982) will be offered two weeks from now at Phillips Hong Kong.

ELMAR, which is backed by a third-party guarantee, was acquired by Pellizzi for $16,000 from New York’s Annina Nosei Gallery not long after it was painted. Robert Manley, Phillips deputy chairman and worldwide co-head of its contemporary art department, said that the group of works boasts “some of Basquiat’s most iconic imagery with equally impressive provenance and exhibition history.”

Tuesday, May 14
The Rosa de la Cruz Evening Art Sale at Christie’s

Felix Gonzales-Torres, Untitled (America #3). (1992). Image courtesy Christie's.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (America #3). (1992). Image courtesy Christie’s.

Star Lot: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (America #3) (1992)
Presale estimate: $8 million to $12 million

What you need to know: The closure of the de la Cruz collection in Miami earlier this year, following the death of Rosa de la Cruz in February, marks the end of an era for contemporary art lovers, who had come to expect to find of-the-moment work in that sleek white building each December, during Art Basel Miami Beach fair. Artnet’s Katya Kazakina was the first to report that the collection would be headed to auction.

The star lot of the sale is one of Felix Gonzalez Torres’s iconic hanging lightbulb sculptures. (You may have seen a similar example suspended in the main staircase of the Whitney Museum in New York’s Meatpacking District.)

The Cuban American Gonzalez-Torres was the first contemporary artist acquired by Rosa de la Cruz, who was friends with the artist in the years before his untimely death in 1996. His other pieces in her collection include two stacks of paper and a pile of white candies. His $7.7 million auction record was set at Christie’s in 2015, and this piece is likely to recalibrate the market.

Tuesday, May 14
21st Century Evening Art at Christie’s

an image of an abstract work that is half yellow half green background with colored ribbons of paint running throughout

Brice Marden, Event (2004–07). Image courtesy Christie’s Images ltd.

Star Lot: Brice Marden Event (2004–07)

Estimate: $30 million to $50 million

What you need to know: Brice Marden’s diptych is expected to be the star of this sale. With an estimate of $30 million to $50 million, it’s poised to break the artist’s current record of just under $31 million ($30.9 million), which was set for a similar diptych, Complements, from the same 2004–07 series, that sold at Christie’s New York in July 2020, according to the Artnet Price Database. Marden, one of contemporary art’s most-in-demand artists, died last year at 84.

As Artnet News recently reported, both the canvas and its seller are somewhat mysterious. The diptych has never been exhibited, and its existence surprised even some seasoned Marden experts. The anonymous consignor is believed to be the reclusive British collector Richard Schlagman.


Wednesday, May 15
Modern Evening Auction at Sotheby’s

an image of a haystack in Giverny, France

Claude Monet, Meules a Giverny (1883)

Star Lot: Claude Monet, Meules à Giverny (1893)

Estimate: In excess of $30 million

What you need to know: In 1893, at the height of the hay-making season, Monet set up his easel in a field just south of the site of his future water-lily pond haven and painted Meules à Giverny, which carries a third-party guarantee. As Sotheby’s writes in its catalogue: “Infused with light, shadow, color and movement, this oil exemplifies the best of Monet’s bucolic Impressionism.”

As Artnet News has noted, the auction house has a record of success with Monet at auction, having sold his painting Meules (1890) for $110.7 million in 2019 in New York. That sale established a record for an Impressionist work at auction, as well as an auction record for the artist, according to the Artnet Price Database.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the first Impressionist exhibition, which opened in Paris on April 15, 1874. A Monet painting there, Impression, Sunrise (1872), inspired Louis Leroy to coin the word “Impressionism” in a satirical review for the Paris newspaper Le Charivari.


Thursday, May 16
20th Century Evening Art at Christie’s

an image of a lush garden in thick brushstrokes in the Impressionist style

Vincent van Gogh, Coin de jardin avec papillons (1887). Image courtesy Christie’s.

Star Lot: Vincent van Gogh, Coin de jardin avec papillons (1887)

Estimate: $28 million to $35 million

What you need to know: Will this jewel-like Van Gogh garden have a lucky week? It failed to sell six years ago, when Christie’s offered it “in the region of $40 million.” This time it’s backed by an outside, or third-party guarantee. That, and the $12 million price drop on the low end, ensures that it will at least find a new home. Note: we can confirm that it literally glows when viewed in person.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
  • Access the data behind the headlines with the artnet Price Database.