The Back Room: Stiff Upper Lip
London’s eye-of-the-beholder auctions, Aboudia’s serious fanbase, crypto art’s next rising star, and much more
Every Friday, Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access to the Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy.
This week in the Back Room: London’s eye-of-the-beholder auctions, Aboudia’s serious fanbase, crypto art’s next rising star, and much more—all in a 7-minute read (1,845 words).
Top of the Market
Soldiering on, or Falling Back?
Amid growing fears of a macroeconomic correction (or worse), this week’s London auctions became the latest brake check for a global art market on a yearslong joy ride.
So did Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips’s marquee evening sales suggest that a slowdown is already underway? Or has the narrative started twisting the facts?
Below are three big takeaways from the Big Three’s nocturnal sales slate. Together, they paint a more complex picture than the boom-and-bust visions being passed around lately. (Reminder: final prices include buyer’s premium unless noted; presale estimates do not.)
1. Overall Sales Totals Were No Cause for Panic.
Sotheby’s London posted the week’s frailest results relative to expectations for its two-part evening sale…
- Jubilee Auction of British Art: £72.3 million ($88.1 million) in total sales, beneath the total low estimate of £73 million ($88.9 million).
- Modern and Contemporary Evening Sale: £76.8 million ($93.5 million), on the shallower side of its anticipated £70 million to £101 million ($85.2 million to $122.9 million) parameters.
- Combined Evening Sale Results: £149.1 million ($181.6 million), just above the aggregate low estimate of £143 million ($174.1 million).
Christie’s performance, however, was rock solid (though not spectacular) across its tripartite evening event…
- 20th/21st Century Evening Sale: £181 million ($222 million), toward the high end of its presale estimate of £128.9 million to £195.8 million ($157 million to $238.5 million).
- Paris Evening Sale: £15.3 million ($16 million), squarely inside its presale expectation of £12.1m to £17.7m ($14.7 million to $21.5 million).
- Marc Chagall Evening Sale: £9.7 million ($11.9 million), well above its high expectation of £6.5 million ($7.9 million).
- Combined Evening Sale Results: £203.8 million ($248 million), comfortably within the presale estimate brackets of £145 million to £220 million ($176.5 million to $267.8 million).
Phillips sold its compact offering very well, too…
- 20th Century and Contemporary Evening Sale: £17.5 million ($21.3 million) near the top of a total presale high estimate of around £18 million ($21.9 million).
2. Trophy Works by Canonical Artists Were Sturdy But Not Foolproof.
The leading lots in this week’s evening sales were all by classic names. Each sold near or north of its presale high estimate…
- Francis Bacon’s portrait of Lucian Freud brought £43.3 million ($52.7 million) at Sotheby’s, albeit on just two bids.
- Two Monet paintings at Christie’s achieved identical £30.1 million ($36.8 million) prices, even amid a recent flood of works by the artist washing onto the market.
Yet similarly hallowed painters were behind the slate’s costliest buy-ins, too, including…
- A David Hockney forest-scape expected to fetch up to £15 million ($18.2 million) at Sotheby’s.
- Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s first-ever self-portrait, which Sotheby’s hoped to sell for as much as £12 million ($14.6 million).
Modern and postwar masters weren’t the only ones to provoke uneven results, though…
3. Some Young Stars Were Moving in Opposite Directions.
Of the artists aged 40 or younger whose works sold at auction for more than $1.5 million last month, three landed far short of that territory in London (yet still beat their high estimates after fees)…
- Anna Weyant saw the richest of her three works (one offered at each house) top out at £466,200 ($566,00) at Sotheby’s.
- Shara Hughes’s priciest canvas of the week summited at £730,800 ($889,000) at Christie’s.
- Christina Quarles’s lone lot reached only £529,200 ($644,000) at Sotheby’s.
On the other hand, an even larger number of young artists matched or surpassed their outsize sales from earlier auctions this year, with each going for at least 4X their high estimate in the process…
- Flora Yukhnovich had two works sell for more than £1.7 million ($2.1 million) each.
- María Berrío’s canvas at Phillips hit £809,000 ($984,000), roughly even with two lots sold in New York last month.
- Caroline Walker (£315,000 / $383,000), Antonia Showering (a record £239,400 / $291,000), and Lauren Quin (£201,600 / $246,000) all ignited bidding wars, too.
The Bottom Line
No marquee auction, or even marquee auction cycle, should ever be viewed in a vacuum. The results of this week’s London sales could be framed as evidence of the market correction so many around the trade are bracing for. But they also seem perfectly respectable given these auctions’ position at the end of an unprecedented market onslaught.
Remember, since mid-May, the industry has staged the following selling events, some due to COVID-induced rescheduling: a historic $2.8 billion slate of New York auctions; three major fairs in New York (Frieze, Independent, TEFAF); Taipei Dangdai; Art Basel Hong Kong; Art Basel Switzerland; significant auctions at Christie’s and Phillips’s sites in Hong Kong; and TEFAF Maastricht, among others.
And yet after all that activity, the Big Three houses still managed to sell more than £370 million ($451 million) worth of art across three nights in London. Maybe the less-than-explosive results really do signal the start of a rebuilding phase in the market. Or maybe they were just the last exhausted flurry before buyers and sellers alike reload for the fall.
In this week’s forthcoming Wet Paint, it turns out the embattled Orlando Museum of Art may have planned to exhibit a disputed Jackson Pollock, too, and Annie Lennox‘s daughter gets top-flight gallery representation.
Here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…
- Four armed thieves broke into TEFAF in Maastricht on Tuesday morning, smashed a glass case with a mallet, and made off with fine jewelry. Dutch police are still searching for the culprits. (Artnet News)
- The inaugural exhibitor list for Frieze Seoul in September is out. More than 100 galleries, around half of which have outposts in Asia, will participate, including Gladstone, Gagosian, Leeahn Gallery, and Whistle. (Artnet News)
- Several dealers at BRAFA chafed against the fair’s rescheduling conflict with TEFAF Maastricht and raised the old specter of fair-tigue. (Artnet News Pro)
- The heirs of a French banker (who also happen to be distant relatives of Marcel Proust) are suing Christie’s to reclaim a painting consigned to the auction house. The Penitent Magdalene (1707) by Dutch artist Adriaen Van Der Werff was looted by the Nazis in 1942. (ARTnews)
- Bonhams paid an undisclosed sum to buy Cornette de Saint Cyr in Paris, its fourth regional auction house acquisition in the past six months. Bonhams CEO Bruno Vinciguerra pledged more such deals are on the way. (Artnet News)
- Pace will expand its Seoul complex with an outdoor sculpture courtyard and tea house featuring prints, editions, and books from the gallery’s imprint. The revamped compound will open in sync with Frieze Seoul this September. (Press release)
- After losing a legal battle with its landlord, the forward-thinking gallery Postmasters is leaving its storefront in Tribeca after nine years. It will become nomadic for the foreseeable future. (Press release)
- L.A. galleries are hoovering up artists. Matthew Brown now reps painter Blair Whiteford; Various Small Fires signed cross-disciplinary artist Kyungmi Shin; Kohn Gallery now reps Brooklyn-based painter Alicia Adamerovich; and Night Gallery is working with Hayley Barker. (Instagram / Press releases)
- Daniel H. Weiss will step down as president and CEO of the Met in June 2023. The board will now assess whether to replace him or nix the museum’s two-pronged management structure in favor of consolidating power under director Max Hollein. (New York Times)
- The Orlando Museum of Art fired its director and CEO, Aaron De Groft, on Wednesday after the F.B.I. seized 25 works controversially attributed to Jean-Michel Basquiat on view at the museum. (New York Times)
- Five artists—James Turrell, Agnes Denes, Michael Heizer, Manal AlDowayan, and Ahmed Mater—will create new land art commissions for Saudi Arabia’s AlUla site in a project led by former Whitechapel Art Gallery head Iwona Blazwick. (Artnet News)
NFTs and More
- The day before news broke that Christie’s NFT guru Noah Davis would leave the auction house to become brand lead of CryptoPunks at Yuga Labs, trading volume for the cartoon NFTs spiked 957 percent, prompting rumors of insider trading. (ARTnews)
- Yuga Labs filed a lawsuit against the artist Ryder Ripps for trademark infringement after he released a series of copycat Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs. Ripps says the company is trying to silence its critics. (Artnet News)
- NFT.NYC drew thousands to Times Square last week—but it was more Comic Con than Art Basel. One crypto company, Tron, paid in the neighborhood of $500,000 for a media lounge, a ballroom for panels, and an activation display. (Artnet News Pro)
Searching High and Higher
Ivorian-American artist Abdoulaye Diarrassouba—better known as Aboudia—has been generating some of the most consistent demand among the young talents boiling up at auction lately. Will the intense interest in his work translate to a sustainable market?
- Artnet Price Database users ran at least 105 searches per month for Aboudia’s work from June 2021 through May 2022.
- The 1,110 PDB searches he solicited in the second half of 2021 alone eclipsed the number of searches run for fellow rising star Flora Yukhnovich throughout all of last year (751).
- Research has correlated with record bidding: Aboudia’s global auction sales surged to an all-time high of $10.5 million in 2021, and buyers had already spent another $6.7 million on his works through May of this year.
Click through below for an overview of the artist’s unlikely rise to prominence and the questions looming over his next moves.
“I said, ‘I don’t have any money but I need this painting. I’ll pay you’—I don’t know what it was, $50 a month. And he looked at me and he said, ‘Why would I do that?’ And I said, ‘Because I bet you have needed a painting before.’ And he goes, ‘O.K.’”
—Then-struggling, now-world-class collector Marguerite Hoffman, recounting the negotiation for her first acquisition, a $5,000 painting from Dallas-based dealer Eugene Binder in the 1980s. (Artnet News Pro)
Work of the Week
Sam Spratt’s VII. Wormfood
Estimate: $80,000 to $120,000
Sold for: $252,000
Sold at: Christie’s “Cartography of the Mind” Sale
Christie’s NFT auction to benefit MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) featured some of the biggest names in crypto art, including Beeple, Mad Dog Jones, and Refik Anadol. But the house led the sale with this work by New York-based Sam Spratt instead, and it turned out to be a prescient choice.
Spratt’s freshly minted VII. Wormfood went for more than double its high estimate after premium to sell for $252,000. That price tied with Beeple for the event’s loftiest. Together, the two works accounted for nearly one-third of the auction’s $1.6 million in aggregate sales (which beat the house’s top collective expectation by about $140,000).
The results underscore that Spratt, a classically trained artist who now uses software to replicate the old sorcery of oils on canvas, may be the next talent to watch at the nexus of traditional art and NFTs. Act accordingly.
Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.
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