Here’s Your Guide to the Top Lots in the First-Ever Hybrid Marquee Summer Auctions, Taking Place Simultaneously In-Person and Online

The houses are still banking on trophy-hunting collectors to prop up their rescheduled marquee sales.

Roy Lichtenstein, Nude with Joyous Painting (1994). Image courtesy Christie's
Roy Lichtenstein, Nude with Joyous Painting (1994). Image courtesy Christie's.

“Is the market ready for these sales?” an attendee at Sotheby’s virtual spring sale preview asked chairman and executive vice president Amy Cappellazzo.

Totally ready!” Cappellazzo replied, not missing a beat.

Whether the months-long lockdown will unleash a wave of pent-up buying or find collectors nervously clutching their pursestrings is the multimillion-dollar question hovering over the art market right now.

Auction houses have scrambled to adopt inventive new strategies to make up for the many sales that have been cancelled, delayed, or pushed online. But they have been holding back prize lots for hybrid virtual-live versions of what are normally among their biggest auctions of the year. This year, the typical series of May sales in New York and June sales in London will be combined into one turbo-charged, genre- and globe-spanning evening for each of the major houses.

The stakes are high, and there is a lot of ground to make up: in April, according to the Artnet Price Database, total action sales worldwide were down almost 90 percent compared to the equivalent month in 2019. That figure rose, to 95 percent, in May.

Yesterday, Sotheby’s announced the launch of an augmented reality feature in the auction house’s app which allows users to virtually hang art in their homes. And visitors who prefer not to visit the house in person can take in a virtual tour of the pre-sale exhibitions installed at its New York galleries.

It remains to be seen if collectors will bite—especially at seven-figure prices—yet no major consignments have been withdrawn so far, including major lots that were secured before lockdown. (One client even told Artnet News that houses have been turning down third-party guarantee proposals, signaling their confidence in the material and a reluctance to divvy up profits.)

Last May, combined estimates for the evening sales at the three main auction houses ranged from $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion. This time around, houses have declined to provide combined figures since they are still securing material—but it’s unlikely the estimates will be anywhere near 2019 levels. Nevertheless, there’s plenty to look out for. Here are a few high-wattage highlights to watch.

 

Monday, June 29

The Ginny Williams Collection Evening Sale

Joan Mitchell, Straw (1976). Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Joan Mitchell, Straw (1976). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Presale estimate: $35.9 million to $51.7 million

Presale estimate last year: N/A

Number of confirmed lots: 18

Top lot: Abstract Expressionist painter Joan Mitchell, one of the highest-priced female artists, is the star of this collection assembled by the late Ginny Williams, a Denver philanthropist who made a fortune in the cable-television industry with her husband, Carl Williams. Ginny, who died last fall at the age of 92, was known for her ebullient personality and her interest in the work of women artists. Although the collection, which Sotheby’s has guaranteed, will be sold across a series of sales all year, a selection of highlights will comprise a single-owner sale that will kick off Sotheby’s main contemporary evening offering on June 29 at 6:30 p.m.

Straw (1976) is one of three classic Mitchell works on offer, estimated at $5 million to $7 million. Meanwhile, Liens Colorés (circa 1956) carries the same estimate, while Garden Party (1961–62), with brilliant green hues, is estimated at $4 million to $6 million. All three had been in Williams’s collection since the early 1990s. Mitchell’s top four prices at auction were set in 2018 and 2019; work from the ’60s tends to be among the most sought-after.

Other highlights: Additional top lots include Lee Krasner’s Re-Echo (1957), which is estimated at $4 million to $6 million and does not appear to ever have been offered at auction before. Helen Frankenthaler’s Royal Fireworks (1975), a burnt orange canvas, carries an estimate of $2 million to $3 million, as does Agnes Martin’s Mountain Flowers I (1985). And a Louise Bourgeois bronze sculpture, Observer (1947–49), is expected to realize $1.5 million to $2 million.

 

Monday, June 29

Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale at Sotheby’s

Pablo Picasso, Head of a Sleeping Woman (1934). Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Pablo Picasso, Head of a Sleeping Woman (1934). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Presale estimate: $59.1 million to $83.5 million

Presale estimate last year: In excess of $293 million

Number of confirmed lots: 28

Top lot: Pablo Picasso’s Head of a Sleeping Woman (1934) is a stunning portrait of the artist’s onetime lover Marie-Therese, which is estimated to sell for between $9 million and $12 million. It was consigned by the Washington, DC-based David Lloyd Kreeger Foundation, which has owned it since 1962. Sotheby’s sold it at auction at its London salesroom in 1960 for £4,500. The composition is more geometric and the hues, a bit more brash than the dreamlike Marie-Therese works for which the artist is best known, but the subject remains widely appealing.

Other highlights: A sign of continued blurring of categories at the high end of the market is the inclusion of Cuban artist Wifredo Lam’s lush Omi Obini (1943), which is estimated at $8 million to $12 million. Lam painted the work after returning to Cuba from Europe in 1941. The artist said of his homecoming that it “meant, above all, a great stimulation of my imagination, as well as the exteriorization of my world.” Sotheby’s began integrating works from its standalone Latin American sales into other categories, beginning with contemporary art, nearly three years ago.

Among the other highlights is the more subdued Picasso, Femme Assise (1929), with an estimate of $4 million to $6 million. Last offered for sale in 2002 at Sotheby’s London, the work sold for $3.6 million, according to the Artnet Price Database. 

On the other hand, an idyllic landscape painting of Saint Tropez by Paul Signac, Le Pin de Bertaud (1899–1900), has a guarantee and is estimated at $4 million to $6 million. It has appeared at auction three times previously. most recently in 2017 at Sotheby’s New York, where it carried a third-party guarantee and sold for a premium-inclusive price of $4 million.

Monday, June 29

Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Sotheby’s

Francis Bacon, Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (DATE). Image courtesy of Sotheby's

Francis Bacon, Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

Presale estimate: $171.4 million to $239.1 million

Presale estimate last year: $245 million to $351 million

Number of confirmed lots: 30

Top Lot: There may be no better test of market confidence at this moment than the offer of a major Francis Bacon work, Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981), with a hefty eight-figure estimate of $60 million to $80 million. The trophy work has a stellar provenance to boot: It was acquired by Norwegian billionaire and collector Hans Rasmus Astrup from Marlborough International Fine Art in 1987, and had long been in the care of the Astrup Fearnly Museum in Oslo.  The work, which Sotheby’s has guaranteed for the consignor, has an extensive exhibition history including appearing at major Bacon retrospectives all over the world.

Other Highlights: Also in the stratosphere of eight-figure asking prices is a Clyfford Still painting, PH-144 (1947-Y-NO.1) (1947), priced at $25 million to $35 million, and a classic Roy Lichtenstein “brushstroke” painting, White Brushstroke I (1965), estimated at $20 million to $30 million. The latter painting was last auctioned at Christie’s New York in May 1993, when it sold for $728,500 on an estimate of $750,000 to $950,000. Other works, by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Mark Rothko, also have the potential to break the $10 million mark.

 

Thursday, July 2

20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Phillips

Joan Mitchell, <i>Noël</i> (1961-62). Image courtesy of Phillips.

Joan Mitchell, Noël (1961-62). Image courtesy of Phillips.

Presale estimate: $29.3 million to $41.5 million

Presale estimate last year: $80 million to $109 million

Number of confirmed lots: 25

Top lot: Phillips New York’s evening sale—with its usual hybrid category that it introduced several years ago—will kick off at 5 p.m. on July 2 to bidders around the world. The star lot is another painting by Joan Mitchell, who seems to be everywhere this season, as represented by Noël (1961–62), which has an estimate of $9.5 million to $12.5 million and a third-party guarantee. The work has never been offered at auction before.

The Phillips sale promises to debut with an improved digital experience on Phillips.com, complete with art-historical and market analysis. The format aims to “capture the intimacy and excitement of being in the room,” said Jean-Paul Engelen, Phillips’s deputy chairman and worldwide co-head of 20th century and contemporary art.

Other highlights: Notable lots include Basquiat’s Victor 25448 (1987), which is estimated at $8 million to $12 million—a notably ambitious estimate. The work was last offered at Christie’s New York in May 2008, when it missed the low end of the $4.5 million to $6.5 million estimate to sell for $3.5 million. And although the energy seems to have drained slightly from Gerhard Richter’s market in recent years, one of his Abstraktes Bild (801-3) (1994) will hit the block in the wake of his short-lived Met Breuer retrospective, priced at $2 million to $3 million. Meanwhile, bidders can expect a few street-art stars as well: Banksy’s Monkey Poison (2004) is estimated at $1.8 million to $2.5 million and KAWS’s Companion (Detail of Crowd Shot) (2000) is estimated at $1.2 million to $1.8 million.

 

Friday, July 10

One: A Global Sale of the 20th Century at Christie’s

Pablo Picasso, Les femmes d'Alger (version 'F') (1955). Image courtesy Christie's

Pablo Picasso, Les femmes d’Alger (version ‘F’) (1955). Image courtesy of Christie’s

Presale estimate: Undisclosed at present

Presale estimate last year: In excess of $293 million for Impressionist and Modern; in the region of $320 million for postwar and contemporary

Number of scheduled lots: Approximately 70 with more consignments pending

Top lots: This bold new sale format, which Christie’s has dubbed a “relay sale,” kicks off at 8 p.m. in Hong Kong and will move in real time to showrooms in Paris, London, and New York. A different auctioneer in each region will lead each part of the sale, with the bulk of lots being offered in New York. Christie’s says the entire event should unfold across roughly two hours, ending at 10 p.m. in Hong Kong, or 10 a.m. in New York.

The auction house has rolled out an impressive lineup of works priced in the eight figures to inaugurate the new model. Artworks for sale include Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger (version ‘F’) (1955), estimated at around $25 million; Lichtenstein’s Nude with Joyous Painting (1994), estimated at around $30 million; Ed Ruscha’s Annie (1962), estimated at $20 million to $30 million; and Zao Wou-Ki’s 21.10.63 (1963), estimated to sell for above $10 million.

Other highlights: In a sign of how unusual this season is shaping up to be—and the fact that consignments are even more of a moving target than usual—Christie’s unveiled additional lots on Tuesday. Two major paintings by Josef Albers in Paris and London are being offered at auction for the first time. Homage to the Square: Between 2 Scarlets (1962) is estimated at $1.2 million to $1.9 million (£1 million to £1.5 million) will highlight the London session, while Homage to the Square: “Veiled” (1961), estimated at $900,000 to $1.3 million (€800,000 to €1.2 million), will star in the Paris session. This marks the first time that work has been seen in public since 1974.

The late-in-the-game announcements are evidence that auctioneers are working hard to make up for lost time—while the fact that works valued at under $2 million count as major gets signals they still have a long way to go.


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