New Records Highlight a Solid Night at Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale
Amy Sillman, Barkley L. Hendricks, and Barbara Chase-Riboud all achieved new records at auction.
A riotous painting by the 68-year-old artist Amy Sillman opened Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction last night with a bang.
Junker 1—which Sillman painted between 2009 and 2010—commanded a surprising $984,250, breaking the artist’s previous record from 2021 of $870,000. The blazing orange-hued canvas demonstrates Sillman’s vivid use of color, the propulsive energy of her brushstrokes, and her singular blending of abstraction and figuration.
“My whole impetus in making art, making work, writing, drawing is…to take parts, and with my labor, remake a strange new language,” the artist has said of her unique approach to abstraction. Junker 1 encapsulates her singular style, evoking the worn-out rawness and charm of a well-used car without slavishly reproducing one.
Sillman was one of several artists who broke their previous records Wednesday night, including two African-American artists finally receiving their due, Barbara Chase-Riboud and Barkley L. Hendricks. Abstract painter Ad Reinhardt also commanded his highest price at auction yet. His Abstract Painting from 1960—part of the haunting “Black Paintings” series he did at the end of his life—hammered at $3.6 million, more than twice its low estimate.
Overall, the Contemporary Evening Auction brought in a hammer total of $214.7 million, a solid $12.7 million above its presale low estimate. The house sold 43 out of its 46 lots, a 93.5 percent sell-through rate.
Chase-Riboud had one of the most stellar showings of the night, almost stealing the show from more high-profile, and high-selling, lots. Her bronze figure La Musica / Amnesia raked in an astonishing $647,700—five times its high estimate. The sale came at the heels of a giant retrospective at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, as well as a show at MoMA that paired the 84-year-old’s sculptures alongside those of Swiss virtuoso Alberto Giacometti, a rarefied honor.
Hendricks, a groundbreaking portrait artist who painted his Black subjects with the grandeur of the Old Masters, similarly seemed to receive a boost from the luminous exhibit of his portraits currently on view at The Frick. Yocks, from 1975, features two stylish Black men, one with a purple ribbed turtleneck and black leather blazer, the other in an exuberant green coat with fur collar, matching hat, and wooden platform shoes. The double-portrait commanded an impressive $8.4 million on a $6 million estimate. The sale broke Hendricks’s previous record of $6.1 million from earlier this year.
The night’s top earner was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two), though its winning $39 million bid fell short of the estimated range of $40 million to $60 million. More abstract painters fared better, such as Gerhard Richter, whose magnificent, 11-foot-tall Abstraktes Bild, from 1997, nabbed $31.9 million. This brilliant, dazzling rose-colored masterwork was one of the evening’s most anticipated sales, and it did not disappoint.
Similarly, appetite for Joan Mitchell’s abstract expressionist works remains strong, as her seminal Sunflowers, from 1990-1991, sold for a hefty $27.9 million last night—the first time this vivid Van Gogh-inspired landscape was ever at auction.
Other abstractionists also fared well: Argentine-Italian “Spatialist” Lucio Fontana’s haunting sculpture Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio—a sleek white orb whose smooth white surface is violently disrupted with large puncture wounds from 1963—sold for $20.6 million, making it the fourth-largest sale of the night. And Frank Stella’s rainbow-hued Honduras Lottery Co., one of the artist’s iconic suite of six concentric square paintings from 1962, beat expectations, rousing the otherwise rather sober crowd to enthusiastic applause.
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