Hot Lots: 6 Artworks That Completely Upended Expectations During Last Week’s New York Day Sales

The evening sales get all the attention. But it's at the day sales where market stars are born.

A preview for the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale at Christie's. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
A preview for the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale at Christie's. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

Christie and Sotheby’s held their marquee evening sales last week as the art market inched back toward normalcy. Apart from the fact that practically no one was in attendance in the sales rooms, it looked like business as usual for the still-dominant auction world duopoly, as the evening sales alone grossed $1.3 billion, confirming that we’re back to having gigaweeks.

But most exciting action happens not during the carefully calibrated marquee auctions (where bidding on big lots is often choreographed with a tango of pre-bids and guarantees), but at the day sales, the bigger, messier little cousin. This is where young artists are tested, markets are made, and—if you’re a savvy consignor—a pretty penny can be made.

We took a deep dive into the lots that stood out among the hundreds offered during the day sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s last week.

 

Jammie Holmes
Center of Attention (2020)

Jammie Holmes, Center of Attention (2020). Photo courtesy Christie’s.

Auction: Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Wednesday, May 12

Estimate: $40,000 to $60,000

Sold for: $175,000

The self-taught painter Jammie Holmes, who trained himself during stints in the army and working on an oil field in Louisiana, is known for his politically charged Neo-expressionist canvases, but the work that put him on the map in 2020 was a gesture of a completely different kind. For a show in collaboration with Dallas Contemporary and his Detroit gallery, Library Street Collective, Holmes hired planes to fly banners across major American cities featuring George Floyd’s last words: “They’re going to kill me,” “My stomach hurts,” “Please, I can’t breathe.”

His paintings began appearing in group shows at Jeffrey Deitch and Marianne Boesky, and collectors such as Beth Rudin DeWoody and Lenny Kravitz started buying. Now the first few works are hitting the auction block, and the results promptly pushed the 36-year-old into six-figure territory.

Wall Street (2018) sold for $100,800 at Sotheby’s on Thursday, but it was the painting Center of Attention—made just last year and already flipped—that really caused a stir, selling for $175,000 over a $60,000 high estimate at Christie’s Wednesday. A new show of Holmes’s paintings opens at his Detroit gallery next week. Expect the work to have a waiting list.

 

Claire Tabouret
Les débutantes (bleu azur) (2014)

Claire Tabouret, es débutantes (bleu azur) (2014). Photo courtesy Christie’s.

Auction: Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Wednesday, May 12

Estimate: $200,000 to $300,000

Sold for: $870,000

How the market is charmed by the oddly transfixing dreamscapes of Claire Tabouret.

She’s long been snapped up by some of the world’s great collectors (Francois Pinault and Budi Tek are fans). Now the last few auction seasons have let collectors without access to new work through her galleries (Almine Rech, Perrotin, Night Gallery) vie for the prize through increasingly elevated bidding.

She notched another record last week, when Les débutantes (bleu azur) (2014) sold for $870,000 over a high estimate of $300,000. Could a seven-figure Tabouret be on the horizon? Sure seems like it.

 

Issy Wood
Kar Interior Kenny (2019)

Issy Wood, Kar Interior Kenny (2019). Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Auction: Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction, Thursday, May 13

Estimate: $60,000 to $80,000

Sold for: $201,600

Issy Wood spent quarantine in her London studio slowly creating masterful painting after masterful painting, and the work has become increasingly impossible for non-whale collectors to secure. (See the saga of one Russell Tovey, the actor and podcast kingpin who still couldn’t get his hands on one and, allegedly, retaliated accordingly.)

Loïc Gouzer sold a Wood painting on his Fair Warning auction app this year for $184,000. When an even better one came up at Sotheby’s last week, collectors with no access to the work on the primary market bid furiously to get their hands on one in the open market. Wood has now breached the $200,000 mark, but don’t expect her record to stay there for long.

 

Salman Toor
The Servant (2013)

Salman Toor, <em>The Servant</em> (2013). Photo courtesy Christie's.

Salman Toor, The Servant (2013). Photo courtesy Christie’s.

Auction: Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Wednesday, May 12

Estimate: $80,000 to $120,000

Sold for: $687,000

Salman Toor made a big splash at Sotheby’s Wednesday night with The Arrival selling for $867,000, more than ten times the high estimate.

But by the time evening rolled around, Toor had already faced a brutal test by the market, as a trio of paintings came on the block during the day sales at Christie’s. Slotted second in the ale, The Toast (2015) did well, selling for $412,500 over a $120,000 high estimate. Next up was Barbie Bakri (2011), which sold for $375,000 over a $60,000 estimate.

But The Servant (2013) was the big draw during the day. It went for $687,5000 over a $120,00 estimate. Art dealers and auction specialists, perhaps you should recall some of the names on the wall text at Toor’s show at the Whitney in New York. Maybe some of the collectors who loaned work might want to part ways with the canvases permanently, for the right price….

 

Emily Ratajkowski
Buying Myself Back: A Model for Redistribution (2021)

Emily Ratajakowski
Buying Myself Back: A Model for Redistribution (2021). Photo courtesy Christie’s.

Auction: Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Wednesday, May 12

Estimate: No estimate given

Sold for: $175,000

Last year, Emily Ratajkowski wrote a story for New York magazine about the saga of Richard Prince appropriating a nude image of her for one of his Instagram works, and the story went viral—it was the big-time Gotham rag’s most-read story of the year. After years of watching Prince gleefully appropriating other people’s Instagrams—just as he had freely appropriated images of the Marlboro Man for his “Cowboys” series decades earlier—Emrata fundamentally changed the narrative. The subject of the work, and not the creator, had the power.

Now she’s monetizing that power. In what was billed as a conceptual gesture, the model and actress took a picture of herself in front of a Richard Prince work that she owns, and then minted an NFT token for the JPEG. Bidding went on for six minutes between multiple potential buyers, with the eventual winner paying $175,000 with fees.

 

KAWS
Untitled (Calvin Klein) (2000)

KAWS, Untitled (Calvin Klein) (2000). Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Auction: Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction, Thursday, May 13

Estimate: $200,000 to $300,000

Sold for: $746,000

In 2000, Jennifer Heslin was the store manager of the gift shop at the New Museum, back when it was at 583 Broadway. One day, she took a chance on a young artist named Brian Donnelly, who went by the name KAWS, and not only stocked his Companion toy in the store, but also put it in the window. She also took 10 copies of a recent KAWS book and sold them briskly.

In return, Donnelly donated a work to be sold at the institution’s annual gala, a work typical of his then-practice: He had defaced a Calvin Klein ad by making the model into one of his X-eyed companion figures. Now, 21 years after the party, whoever bought it at the gala consigned the work to Sotheby’s. Who knows what they paid for it two decades ago, but rest assured: that buyer made bank. Estimated to sell for $300,000, it instead went for an unreal $746,000.


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