See Highlights of Sotheby’s and Phillips Spring Contemporary Sales

Rothko is expected to be the star of the Sotheby's sale.

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Roy Lichtenstein, The Ring (Engagement) (1962).
(Estimate: in the region of $50 million).
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby's.
Mark Rothko, Untitled (Yellow and Blue) (1954).
(Estimate: $40–60 million)
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby's.
Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild (1992).
(Estimate: in the region of $30 million)
Image: Courtesy Sotheby's.
Christopher Wool, Untitled (Riot)(1990)
(Estimate: $12–18 million)
Image: Courtesy Sotheby's.
Andy Warhol, Mao (1973).
(Estimate: $13–16 million). Image: Courtesy Sotheby's.
Jackson Pollock, Number 12 (1950).
(Estimate: $15–20 million) Image: Courtesy Sotheby's.
Sigmar Polke, Dschungel (1967).
(Estimate: in the region of $20 million) Image: Courtesy Sotheby's.
Francis Bacon, Seated Woman (1961).
(Estimate: $25–35 million). Image: Courtesy Phillips.
Mark Tansey, Hedge (2011).
(Estimate: $3.5– 4,.5 million). Image: Courtesy Phillips.
Brice Marden, Elements (Hydra)(1999-2000/2001).
(Estimate: $8– 12 million). Image: Courtesy Phillips.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Krong Thip (Torso) (1983) failed to sell on an estimate of $4– 6 million). Image: Courtesy Phillips.

The contemporary art world is bracing for one of the biggest and busiest auction seasons ever this week (May 11–15), with a jam-packed calendar of mostly postwar and contemporary sales as well as the opening of the fourth annual New York edition of the powerhouse Frieze Art Fair on Randall’s Island on May 14 (see What Top Dealers Are Bringing to Frieze 2015 and Wunderkind Director Victoria Siddall Tells Us What Not to Miss at Frieze New York).

Christie’s decision to move its Impressionist sale series back a week and organize an additional hybrid sale of Impressionist and contemporary masterpieces, titled “Looking Forward to the Past,” is also a key factor in this compressed schedule (see Is Christie’s Abandoning the Impressionist and Modern Market? and Why Is Christie’s Shaking Up The Spring Auction Schedule?). The other postwar and contemporary evening sales line up as follows: Sotheby’s on Tuesday May 12; Christie’s on Wednesday May 13, and Phillips, on Thursday May 14 (see Will Twombly, Freud, and Rothko Lead Christie’s to A Billion-Dollar Night?).

Sotheby’s evening sale on Tuesday May 12 will feature 65 lots and is estimated to bring more than $320 million.

Viewers can expect serious bling, with Roy Lichtenstein’s The Ring (Engagement) (1962) being offered with a price “in the region of $50 million” (see Sotheby’s to Offer Pristine Roy Lichtenstein Painting for $50 Million). The current record for a work by Lichtenstein is $56.3 million, paid for the 1963 painting Woman with Flowered Hat, executed in a Picasso-esque style and sold at Christie’s New York in May 2013.

In its 53-year history, the painting has only ever had two owners. It was consigned from the collection of Chicago businessman and philanthropist Stefan Edlis, who acquired the work at Sotheby’s New York in 1997 for $2.2 million. The owner before that, antiques dealer Jean Marie Rossi, had acquired it from legendary dealer Ileana Sonnabend in Paris for a mere $1,000 (the price he paid was 6,000 French francs, to be exact).

Rothko is expected to be a star of the evening with a large, sublime yellow and blue work Untitled (1954) that is estimated at $40–60 million. In addition to being a superb work from a series that has largely been snapped up by major museums, the painting, which was owned by prestigious collectors Paul and Bunny Mellon and then by Christie’s current owner François Pinault, has never before appeared at auction.

Another expected highlight is a large abstract canvas by auction-block rock star Gerhard Richter. Abtraktes Bild (1992) is estimated to sell in the region of $30 million. Indicating just how far the Richter market has come in a relatively short time, the work was last offered at auction at Sotheby’s New York in November 2010, where it sold for $11.3 million on an estimate of $5.5–7.5 million. Prior to that, the work was offered for sale at Christie’s New York in May 2005, where it sold for $1.2 million on an estimate of $1–1.5 million, a mere fraction of today’s current estimate.

Among the few works by women artists at these male-dominated evening sales is an abstract painting by Helen Frankenthaler, Saturn Revisited (1964), which is offered with a far more modest estimate of $600–800,000.

Private dealer Andrea Crane told artnet News via email: “Frankenthaler works are less frequently included in the evening sales. It will be interesting to see how the work performs. She belongs in the evening sale and her works tend to perform well at auction generally.”

Phillips is also keeping with the usual schedule by holding its evening contemporary sale towards the end of the week (Thursday May 14), though this time around that night coincides with Christie’s evening Impressionist sale, scheduled earlier for 5pm as compared with Phillips’s 7pm time slot.

Phillips is offering 72 lots with an overall presale estimate of $98.5 million to $141.85 million.

Several of the top works on offer—a Francis Bacon portrait, Seated Woman (1961), estimated at $25 million to $35 million—are in a price range that is slightly higher-than-average for Phillips’s usual offerings of cutting-edge contemporary artists (think Sterling Ruby and Alex Israel). It’s possible that the higher voltage works reflect the clout brought by Phillips recently hired CEO Edward Dolman, former longtime CEO of Christie’s. This arguably extends to the treatment of the Bacon, for which Phillips has taken the unusual step of publishing a separate catalogue.

Last sold by Sotheby’s Paris in December 2007, Seated Figure then sold for $20 million (€13.7 million) on a €7.5–10 million estimate.

Another expected highlight is Brice Marden’s Elements (Hydra) (1999-2000/2001), featuring his signature ribbons of color on a cool gray background. The work is estimated at $8–12 million and has never been offered at auction before.

Much sought-after contemporary artist Mark Tansey is represented here by Hedge (2011), which carries an estimate of $3.5–4.5 million and was previously seen as part of a Gagosian Gallery solo show in Los Angeles in May 2011.


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