The Back Room: Sequel Success
This week: wrapping up New York’s auctions, a stampede of artists switching stables, a verbal joust in a bidding war, 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: wrapping up New York’s auctions, a stampede of artists switching stables, a verbal joust in a bidding war, and much more—all in a 7-minute read (1,888 words).
Top of the Market
With the last major New York evening auction now complete, we’re finally in position to assess the gavel game’s full playing field. Overall, the Big Three’s May sales were as big a win as the houses could have hoped for amid the continuing turbulence in the financial and crypto markets. Even still, the victory comes with caveats.
For a broader picture, let’s return to the dominant themes of Christie’s evening sales last week to see which trends held at Sotheby’s and Phillips over the past four nights.
Thin Air at the Price Peak
Did It Stay True? Yes.
Out of three evening auctions with lots projected to sell for $30 million or more, only one hammered north of its highest estimate.
The winning bid for the bravura Basquiat anchoring Phillips’s 20th century and contemporary evening sale on Wednesday night was $75 million, above its $70 million expectation. The result powered the house to its “most successful sale ever,” according to a post-auction statement touting the premium-inclusive $225 million overall total achieved.
In contrast, the two priciest lots in part two of Sotheby’s Macklowe collection evening sale hammered at the lower end of their expected range: a moody 1960 Mark Rothko at $41.5 million (estimate: $35 million to $50 million), and a Gerhard Richter seascape at $26 million (estimate: $25 million to $35 million).
The momentum slowed further at Sotheby’s Modern evening sale. Yes, the gavel came down for Paul Cézanne’s Clairière (The Glade) at $36 million, almost dead center in its $30 million to $40 million presale projection. But the winning bid for Picasso’s Femme nue couchée (1932) was $58.5 million, below its $60 million expectation. Monet’s Le Grand Canal et Santa Maria della Salute (1908) hammered at $49 million, south of its $50 million low estimate.
Sotheby’s contemporary evening sale told a similar story. Francis Bacon’s Study of Red Pope hammered at its $40 million low estimate after only one bidder emerged. The gavel fell for Cy Twombly’s major blackboard painting at $35.5 million, well below its $40 million low projection, also to a lone suitor.
The good news? All of these trophy lots sold. The less good news? They didn’t sell for more.
Young Artists Obliterating Expectations
Did It Stay True? Yes.
Between Sotheby’s and Philips this week, eight lots by artists aged 40 or younger soared to $1 million or more after fees: María Berrío ($1 million, twice), Shara Hughes ($1.6 million), Anna Weyant ($1.6 million), Jennifer Packer ($2.3 million), Christina Quarles ($4.5 million), Avery Singer ($5.3 million), and posthumously, Matthew Wong ($5.9 million).
Three more talents in this age bracket reached rare air of their own. A Lucy Bull painting at Sotheby’s went for $907,200, more than 11X its $80,000 high estimate. Two works by Lauren Quin went for between $302,400 and $529,200 each against five-figure expectations. Robin F. Williams achieved an auction record of almost $328,000 at Phillips, more than double its low projection.
Asian Collectors Narrowing Their Focus
Did It Stay True? Yes.
Phillips stated that 20 percent of registered bidders in its record-setting Wednesday evening sale came from Asia, the same proportion as Europe. Bidders working through the house’s Hong Kong salesroom paid above-estimate prices for Weyant, Berrío, and Hughes per my colleague Annie Armstrong.
Sotheby’s, meanwhile, relayed that more than 25 percent of lots in “The Now,” the youth-centric component of its Thursday evening sale, had “deep bidding from Asia.” Such hard figures were conspicuously absent from the official recaps of the house’s other nocturnal auctions.
The best we got was confirmation that one Asian client acquired a Monet for $23.3 million in the Modern evening sale, another was the underbidder for the Rothko in the Macklowe auction, and others were “active” on that night’s Jeff Koons and Warhol Airmail lots.
A Counter-trend ‘80s Revival
Did It Stay True This Week? No.
There just weren’t many lots by sub-star white male artists of the era in this week’s evening sales, which is its own answer to this question.
A Sean Scully canvas overperformed at Sotheby’s, hammering for $1.65 million against a $1.2 million high estimate. But a David Wojnarowicz work at Phillips only landed within its estimate range after fees. Beyond that, the field was barren.
It’s possible that the day sales could provide more evidence, but that analysis will have to wait for another time.
The Bottom Line
The results from the Macklowe sale on Monday night are a useful avatar for this season’s entire New York evening auction cycle. Sotheby’s sold all 30 lots, bringing in $246.1 million. Combined with the initial evening auction last November, the trove amassed $922 million in total sales.
That makes the Macklowe holdings the priciest private art hoard ever sold under the hammer… as long as you don’t adjust for inflation.
If you do, though, the two-part sale fell about $40 million short of the cume from the Peggy and David Rockefeller estate at Christie’s in 2018. The latter stockpile, sold for $835.1 million four years ago, would have been worth about $961.5 million in today’s economy.
In short, yes: the season went extremely well for the Big Three. Just not quite as well as the boldest proclamations would have us believe. Stay vigilant for what lies ahead.
[Sotheby’s Macklowe Evening Sale Report]
The latest Wet Paint gives us an evening inside the art world’s long-running, rainmaker-packed Lesbian and Bisexual Backgammon League, as well as an update on how the continuing war in Ukraine is impacting Russian-owned Phillips and multiple (anti-Putin) Russian expat dealers. If that’s not range, we don’t know what is.
Here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…
- If you haven’t read a Frieze New York sales report yet, make it this one. (Artnet News)
- Lévy Gorvy claimed to have placed a Joan Mitchell painting for $19.5 million at Art Basel Hong Kong last May, but documents show the gallery had actually sold the canvas to Masterworks (via the Mugrabi family) for $14.2 million a month before the fair opened. (Artnet News Pro)
- Elizabeth Dee and Matthew Higgs are launching Independent 20th Century, a new fair dedicated to underappreciated 20th century artwork, from September 8 through 11 in New York. (Artnet News)
- Christie’s sold a print of Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres (1924) for a cool $12.4 million, nearly three times the previous auction record for a photograph. (Artnet News)
- A recently reattributed Michelangelo drawing went for €20 million ($21 million) at Christie’s Paris, setting a new record for the Renaissance master. (Artnet News)
- Neo-Geo art star Ashley Bickerton has joined Gagosian after 16 years with Lehmann Maupin. His first exhibition with his new gallery will be in New York next year. (ARTnews)
- Issy Wood is now jointly repped by Michael Werner and Carlos/Ishikawa; Jack Pierson has joined the roster at Lisson (while staying on with Xavier Hufkens, Thaddaeus Ropac, and Regen Projects); and rising L.A. star Lauren Quin has signed with Blum & Poe. (Financial Times / ARTnews / Wet Paint)
- The estate of Ernie Barnes, whose painting The Sugar Shack went nuclear at Christie’s last week, is now represented by Andrew Kreps and Ortuzar Projects. (ARTnews)
- Lisa Cooley, whose eponymous downtown New York gallery closed in 2016, joined Various Small Fires as senior director. (Instagram)
- Stephanie Rosenthal is leaving her role as director of Berlin’s Gropius Bau to lead the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, now slated to open in 2026. (Artnet News)
- Gilane Tawadros has been tapped to succeed Iwona Blazwick as director of Whitechapel Gallery in London. (Artnet News)
- Newfields (fka the Indianapolis Museum of Art) hired Colette Pierce Burnette as president and CEO 15 months after former director Charles Venable resigned amid accusations of systemic racism within the institution. Burnette is the first Black woman to lead the organization. (Artnet News)
NFTs and More
- Ross Bleckner has been creating an NFT series (titled “Cryptoflares”) and shooting videos of himself destroying their watercolor source material as each is minted. (Wet Paint)
- Takashi Murakami has emerged as one of the NFT space’s biggest crossover stars, with his crypto works trading for as much as $41 million. (Artnet News Pro)
- In a forthcoming Artnet News Pro column, veteran art advisor Wendy Goldsmith will answer your most pressing questions about navigating the market. Email your burning queries to [email protected] for consideration.
Gains on Ghenie
Christie’s will offer Romanian auction darling Adrian Ghenie’s Pie Fight Interior 12 (2014) with an estimate of HK$68 million to HK$98 million ($8.8 million to $13 million) during its May sales in Hong Kong. If it meets expectations, it could crack the artist’s record price. We took a look inside Ghenie’s meteoric auction rise for The Appraisal.
- Since 2011, when Ghenie first caught the attention of collectors through an exhibition at François Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi in Venice, his works have consistently exceeded expectations at auction.
- Ghenie’s existing auction record is now $9.3 million, reset at Sotheby’s just last night after holding at $9 million since October 2016.
- 2021 was Ghenie’s best year to date with works notching $39.6 million in total sales.
Click through for more on the key ingredients to Ghenie’s auction success, what bodies of work are his most sought after, and whether this truly is the “Pie Fight” to end all fights.
“He turns to me at one point and says, ‘I’m not going to stop.’ To which I replied, ‘Then I’m going to make you pay.’”
—Energy trader Bill Perkins recounting his exchange with his competitor in the 10-minute bidding war that sent Ernie Barnes‘s The Sugar Shack to $15.3 million, 76 times its high estimate, at Christie’s 20th century evening sale in New York last Thursday. (Perkins won.) (New York Times)
Work of the Week
Rachel Jones’s Title TBC
Price: £75,000 ($93,650)
Sold at: Frieze New York
Sold to: Private collection
Although several of her fellow fast-rising peers have rung up big hammer prices in New York this month, the only public places to find works by fiercely sought-after Rachel Jones right now are in her solo exhibition at the esteemed Chisenhale Gallery—and in Thaddaeus Ropac’s booth at Frieze New York.
Jones, who just turned 30 last year, provided her dealer two arresting new oilstick paintings for the fair (only one of which is actually on view). They are the latest of the artist’s color-saturated renderings of abstracted teeth, which often seem to double as vibrant landscapes or still-life compositions.
Jones’s works have been nearly impossible to snag since Ropac signed her following a fall 2020 group show at his space. He placed her paintings in such institutions as the ICA Miami; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Tate even before opening her inaugural solo show at his London gallery this February. No surprise, that show sold out almost instantly.
A few weeks later, Jones’s painting A Slow Teething (2020) came up as the opening lot in Sotheby’s “The Now” evening sale, selling for £617,400 ($764,300). Her primary prices are much closer to that lot’s £50,000 to £70,000 estimate range than the post-bidding-war price, as Title TBC shows—proof that Ropac is intent on playing the long game with his young star.
Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.
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