Here’s Your Guide to the Best, Most Desirable Artworks for Sale During New York’s $2.6 Billion Spring Auction Marathon
Collections from the likes of the Macklowes, the Ammanns, and Anne Bass represent an almost unprecedented caliber of material.
Buckle up: More than $2 billion worth of art is likely to be sold across the New York evening sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips in the next two weeks. Experts say this spring auction season could be the biggest in history.
Two years ago, auction houses proved their mettle when lockdown forced them to rapidly pivot away from the live-sale model they had refined over decades. With the help of enhanced e-commerce and Hollywood-level production crews, they embraced hybrid online-in person sales that bounced from one global capital to another, generating at least some of the traditional momentum of an old-school live affair.
As the world returns to a new normal, that momentum is going into overdrive. Evening sales at the Big Three houses are poised to generate between $1.9 billion and $2.6 billion, according to calculations by Artnet News. The equivalent sale series last year (with a few more calendar quirks) brought in just over $1 billion—a fraction of current expectations.
Whether it can be chalked up to people holding back valuable art during lockdown, or confidence following the blockbuster success of the Macklowe and Cox collections last season, this May sees a caliber of consignments that some observers say is unprecedented.
Offerings include the storied collection of Swiss connoisseurs Thomas and Doris Ammann—which boasts the highest-estimated painting ever offered at auction—and gems owned by the Texas ranch heiress Anne Bass at Christie’s; the return of the Macklowe Collection at Sotheby’s; and a billboard-size Basquiat with a proven track record at Phillips.
“It’s a triple-header as Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips bring it with star-studded auctions resulting from market demand, divorce (Macklowe) and estate sales (Ammann, Bass, and [Rosalind Gersten] Jacobs),” said art advisor Wendy Cromwell.
Christie’s has the most valuable evening offerings of the bunch, with a combined high estimate reaching $1.4 billion; Sotheby’s follows with $971.5 million; and Phillips comes in third with $210 million.
These cumulative totals don’t include Christie’s single-owner day sale of the Surrealist collection of the late New York fashion executives Rosalind and Melvin Gersten Jacobs, which could generate another $30 million, or the offloading of a dinosaur skeleton that carries a price tag of $4 million to $6 million, midway through one of the evening sales.
Asked about the plethora of top works surfacing, Phillips deputy chairman Robert Manley said that after witnessing the market’s performance over the past two years, “anybody who is a discretionary seller probably thought to themselves that now is a good time to sell.”
Here is Artnet’s complete guide to the biggest sales and star lots in the weeks ahead.
Monday, May 9
The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann
Time: 7 p.m.
Estimate: $284 million to $420 million
Lots on Offer: 36
Star Lot: Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964)—the highlight of the collection assembled by the influential Swiss art-dealing siblings Doris and Thomas Ammann—will serve as a key test of the masterpiece market. With an estimate of $200 million, it is the most expensive lot of the week and comes with the highest asking price in auction history, outranking Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi (circa 1500), which had an estimate of $100 million. As with the Leonardo, Christie’s is requiring interested parties to register for a special paddle in order to bid.
The painting is one of five works depicting the iconic film star that were in Warhol’s studio in 1964 when performance artist Dorothy Podber whipped out a gun and shot the stack of portraits right between the eyes. The act may have only added to their allure.
The Ammann siblings bought this painting from Condé Nast mogul and mega-collector Si Newhouse around 40 years ago, in a sale brokered by Gagosian. It is being offered with no guarantee, which strikes some as a high-wire act. The current Warhol record is $105.4 million, set in 2013 for Silver car crash (Double disaster) (in 2 parts) (1963).
Other highlights of the Ammann sale include an early white Robert Ryman painting (estimate: $15 million to $20 million) and examples of appropriation art by the likes of Mike Bidlo and Elaine Sturtevant.
And if the Marilyn wasn’t enough Warhol for one evening, Christie’s is selling one of the artist’s largest Flowers silkscreens from 1964 (estimate: $15 million to $20 million). After the siblings acquired it in 1983 for $40,000, Warhol wrote in his diary that it was “a good price” but he believed it would be worth “a lot more… some day.”
As Johanna Flaum, Christie’s head of postwar and contemporary art, said recently: “Well, some day is here.”
Tuesday, May 10
21st-Century Art Evening Sale
Time: 7 p.m.
Estimate: $110 million to $162 million
Lots on Offer: 33
Equivalent Low Estimate in Spring 2021: $145 million
Star Lot: Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (1994) has rock-star provenance… literally. It was formerly owned by Eric Clapton, who sold it in 2012 for $34 million. The fact that the work is returning to the auction block within a decade might explain why the unpublished estimate—$35 million—remains so close to that number. The work is unlikely to surpass the artist’s auction record of $46 million, set in 2015, the peak of Richter’s market, for an abstract painting at Sotheby’s London.
Other highlights include Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict (1982), which is fresh to the auction market and estimated at more than $30 million, and Banksy’s Diamond In The Rough (2010), a spray-painted truck door (estimate: $3 million to $5 million).
A 1988 Untitled Christopher Wool word painting that spells out Trojan Horses, estimated at $8 million to $12 million, could also be a key test for a market that has dropped sharply in recent years.
Thursday, May 12
The Collection of Anne Bass
Time: 7 p.m.
Lots on Offer: 12
Estimate: $243 million to $361 million
Star lot: The two red Mark Rothko color block paintings that flanked the walls of Anne Bass’s legendary Fifth Avenue apartment carry a combined high estimate of $145 million.
Untitled (Shades of Red) (1961), which is estimated at $60 million to $80 million, is the priciest lot of the sale, and was painted the same year as Rothko’s mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The companion piece, No.1 (1962), is estimated at $45 million to $65 million. Bass acquired both from advertising executive Albert Lasker. The current auction record for Rothko is $86.8 million, set in 2012 for Orange, Red, Yellow (1961).
These are two of just a dozen works formerly owned by Anne Bass, who was once married to Texas oil tycoon Sid Richardson Bass and presided over New York high society in the 1980s. The modestly sized haul is expected to deliver a not-very-modest minimum of $243 million.
Other highlights include works by Balthus and Vilhelm Hammershøi, as well as the only lifetime cast of Degas’s famous Petite danseuse de quatorze ans (estimate: $20 million to $30 million), a testament to Bass’s lifelong love of dance.
Thursday, May 12
Christie’s 20th-Century Art Evening Sale
Time: 8 p.m.
Lots on Offer: 44
Estimate: $351 million to $453 million
Equivalent Estimate in Spring 2021: In excess of $293 million
Star Lot: Jackson Pollock’s Number 31 (1949) was created when the artist was at the height of his fame—the same year Life magazine asked whether he was the greatest living artist. The petite work has been in the same private collection for nearly two decades and has an asking price in excess of $45 million.
Other pieces on offer reflect the extent to which traditional categories have been reshuffled in recent years. Alongside Pollock, there is a Warhol Skull silkscreen from 1976 (typically the province of postwar and contemporary sales), paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet (typically associated with Impressionist offerings), and even a version of Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851) by the 19th-century German-American artist Emanuel Leutze. The work is estimated at $15 million to $20 million.
Christie’s is also selling what may be the most valuable work of art ever deaccessioned by a museum: Picasso’s bronze Tête de femme (Fernande) (1909) from the collection of the Met. Proceeds from the sale, which is expected to generate $30 million, will fund future acquisitions.
Monday, May 16
The Macklowe Collection
Time: 7 p.m.
Lots On Offer: 30
Estimate: In the region of $200 million
Estimate for the Fall 2021 Macklowe Sale: In excess of $400 million
Star Lot: The second chapter of the blockbuster sale of the collection assembled by divorced couple Harry and Linda Macklowe is led by a Mark Rothko painting with an atypical brown and blue palette. But the unusual color combination has not dampened its estimate, which stands at $35 million to $50 million.
The collection—sent to the auction block by court order following the pair’s bitter divorce—was intentionally split across two seasons to avoid flooding the market with blue-chip treasures by the likes of Cy Twombly, Robert Ryman, and Alberto Giacometti.
Other star lots include Gerhard Richter’s Seestück (Seascape) (1975) (estimate: $25 million to $35 million) and a 1986 Andy Warhol self-portrait with camouflage overlay ($15 million to $20 million).
Tuesday, May 17
Modern Evening Sale
Time: 7 p.m.
Lots on Offer: 61
Estimate: $340.2 million to $443.4 Million
Equivalent Estimate in Spring 2021: $169 million to $222.8 million
Star Lot: Le Grand Canal et Santa Maria della Salute (1908) by Claude Monet, which boasts an estimate of $50 million, leads the sale alongside Pablo Picasso’s Femme nue couchée (1932), which is expected to generate more than $60 million. The consignor has owned the Picasso since 2008, when they acquired it through Gagosian. The shake-up of conventional categories will also see reliable trophy names like Cézanne, Matisse, and Gauguin offered alongside Ab-Ex kingpin Barnett Newman and Polish-born Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka.
Wednesday, May 18
20th-Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Time: 7 p.m.
Number of Lots on Offer: 37
Estimate: $170 million to $210 million
Equivalent High Estimate in Spring/Summer 2021: $113 million
Star Lot: If that enormous 1982 Basquiat looks familiar, that’s because it is. The same picture sold for $57.3 million in 2016, when Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa picked it up from Christie’s.
If the work achieves its $70 million estimate, which is the second-highest asking price of the spring season after Warhol’s Marilyn, it would amount to a $12.7 million markup and a handsome profit for Maezawa following a nearly six-year holding period. Phillips confirmed that the work is backed by a third-party guarantee, which means it will sell regardless of the bidding activity.
Phillips is also offering a rare Alexander Calder mobile, the monumental 39=50 (1959), which carries an estimate of $10.5 million to $14.5 million. The work—one of fewer than 15 all-white mobiles known as “snow flurries”—was in the collection of French magnate (and Christie’s owner) François Pinault for more than a decade. Calder’s current record is just under $26 million for a 1957 mobile.
Thursday, May 19
The Now Evening Sale
Time: 6 p.m.
Lots on Offer: 24
Estimate: $41.9 million to $59.9 million
Equivalent Estimate in Fall 2021: $36.6 million to $53.2 million
In a testament to the rapidly growing category of ultra-contemporary art, Sotheby’s is reviving the young art-focused The Now, a mini-sale it piloted in fall 2021 (and again in London in March). The star lot here is by Kerry James Marshall, whose painting Beauty Examined (1993) is estimated at $8 million to $12 million. It’s accompanied by works by from the unstoppable billionaire favorite Adrian Ghenie, as well as examples by Banksy, Julie Mehretu, and Avery Singer.
Thursday, May 19
Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Time: 7 p.m.
Lots on Offer: 28
Estimate: $180.1 million to $268.2 million
Equivalent Estimate in Spring 2021: $150.1 million to $209.3 million
Star Lot: Francis Bacon’s Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd Version (1971) last hit the block at Christie’s London in 2017, when it had the distinction of being the highest-estimated lot ever offered in Europe. (The unpublished estimate was in the region of £60 million, or $81.5 million.) That asking price may have been a bit too aggressive, and the work failed to sell. Now, it’s back on the block at Sotheby’s with a considerably lower estimate of $40 million to $60 million. And this time, it’s got a guarantee, so it’s basically already sold.
Another star lot, also with a guarantee and an identical estimate of $40 million to $60 million, is a classic chalkboard painting by Cy Twombly, Untitled (1969).
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