Cy Twombly Canvas Leads Sotheby’s $242 Million Contemporary Art Sale

Yusaku Maezawa continued his buying spree.

Cy Twombly, Untitled (New York City), 1968. Photo: courtesy Sotheby's New York.
Cy Twombly, Untitled (New York City), 1968. Photo: courtesy Sotheby's New York.

Led by a $36.7 million canvas by Cy Twombly, one of his iconic blackboard paintings, Sotheby’s lively post-war and contemporary art auction tallied $242.2 million Wednesday night in a crowded salesroom. Of 44 lots on offer, 42 found buyers.

The auction went against the trend of a general slowing of the art market at the top end, to judge by the reactions of both top dealers and collectors.

“It was a very strong night,” said New York dealer Dominique Lévy on her way out of the salesroom, where top dealers like Adam Lindemann, Robert Mnuchin, Philippe Ségalot, and David Zwirner, as well as major collecting families like the Nahmads and the Mugrabis, were in attendance.

“Last night really boosted confidence,” Lévy added, referring to Tuesday’s strong sale at Christie’s of similar material, which racked up $318 million on 60 works, with a record-setting $57.3 million Jean-Michel Basquiat canvas in the lead. “Tonight, there weren’t just one or two bidders on many lots—you saw private dealers, advisors, and collectors bidding,” she said.

“A remarkable sale,” Miami collector Don Rubell told artnet News.

“A great sale of great stuff,” Ségalot said while exiting the house.

Tempering this excitement, though, was the fact that the sale fell near the low end of the house’s estimated range. The total hammer price had been estimated between $201 million and $257 million, without fees. The hammer total was $209.6 million. The $242.2 million total with fees lagged well behind that of the house’s previous May sale, which totaled $380 million on 63 lots, led by a $46.5-million Mark Rothko canvas.

The Twombly that netted the night’s highest price, Untitled (New York City) (1968), fell a bit short of its estimated price, which was in excess of $40 million. In private hands since the collector bought it out of the artist’s studio in 1969, the painting went to an anonymous phone bidder after about 60 seconds.

Francis Bacon, Two Studies for a Self-Portrait (1970).Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s.

Francis Bacon, Two Studies for a Self-Portrait (1970). Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s.

Francis Bacon’s Two Studies for a Self-Portrait (1970), measuring about a foot high and hanging behind auctioneer Oliver Barker’s head, hammered just above its $30 million high estimate to sell for $35 million, the second-highest price of the night. It had been unavailable since 1970 and out of sight since 1993, and went to a phone buyer bidding via Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in London.

Christopher Wool, Untitled, 1990.Photo: courtesy Sotheby's New York.

Christopher Wool, Untitled, 1990. Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s New York.

Japanese shopping mall magnate Yusaku Maezawa continued the buying spree he had begun at Christie’s the night before, picking up Christopher Wool’s Untitled, a 1990 enamel painting emblazoned with the word “chameleon” in black on white, for $13.9 million, the night’s fourth-highest price. He also took home a small Adrian Ghenie self-portrait, the first work offered in the sale, inspiring a blazing five-minute contest before selling for $2.6 million, blasting by its high estimate of just $300,000.

Cy Twombly, Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V], 2004.Photo: courtesy Sotheby's New York.

Cy Twombly, Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V], 2004. Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s New York.

Wednesday’s sale was unusual in that two of the top five estimated lots were by Twombly. His Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V] (2004) went for $15.4 million, which was the night’s third-highest price, though it fell short of the presale estimate (in excess of $20 million). Marked by looping red strokes against a pale yellow ground, the work had been guaranteed a minimum price, either by the house or by a third party, one of 12 works tonight that were guaranteed to sell.

Sam Francis, Summer #1 (1957).Photo: courtesy Sotheby's New York.

Sam Francis, Summer #1 (1957). Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s New York.

Los Angeles gigacollector and museum founder Eli Broad, bidding from the sales floor, won Summer #1, a 1957 abstract canvas by Sam Francis, for $11.8 million to set a new record, far exceeding his previous high of $6.4 million.

Franz Kline, <i>Elizabeth</i> (1961). Photo: courtesy Sotheby's New York.

Franz Kline, Elizabeth (1961). Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s New York.

Also among the night’s top 10 lots were a David Smith steel sculpture ($9.2 million), an Alexander Calder mobile ($8.3 million), and a Franz Kline canvas ($8 million).

David Smith, <i>Zig I</i> (1961). Photo: courtesy Sotheby's New York.

David Smith, Zig I (1961). Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s New York.

The sale came near the end of a week packed with auctions. Both Christie’s and Phillips had staged sales on Sunday evening, followed by Sotheby’s sale of Impressionist and modern art on Monday. Earlier in the week, the house released a first-quarter earnings report showing that its revenue had decreased by almost one-third year over year.

The spring New York auction season closes with Thursday night’s sale of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s.


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