$38.6 Million Bacon Leads $310 Million Sotheby’s Sale of Post-war and Contemporary Art
Sotheby’s posted a solid contemporary sale Thursday evening, bringing in $310.2 million over 72 lots, or $267.4 million before buyer’s fees, with a notable 96% of lots sold.
Bidding on many of the higher-end lots was thin, but a fair number of them—44 in all, or 61% of the sale—came with guarantees or irrevocable bids, suggesting that the auction house preferred to cut deals ahead of the sale rather than hold out for a little drama in the room.
“It shows they didn’t have much interest in the works and just wanted to get these things sold,” said Brett Gorvy, a former Christie’s executive and partner in Upper East Side gallery Lévy Gorvy.
It was a buzzkill, but an effective one. Thursday night marked Sotheby’s fourth consecutive New York contemporary evening sale with a sell-through rate of 90% or more by lot, Grégoire Billault, senior vice president and head of Contemporary Art, New York, said after the sale. All of the 24 works on paper from the Diamonstein-Spielvogel collection sold, two-thirds of them for above their high estimates.
It was the final evening sale of a historic auction week that saw Christie’s sell the highest price ever paid for a work of art. The five evening sales together—two Impressionist and Modern sales and three contemporary sales, including Phillips’s earlier on Thursday night—brought in $1.946 billion, results that mark a significant rise from the previous year but are still well below the $2.7 billion week of auctions held in May 2015.
Coming after Christie’s dramatic Wednesday night sale of the Leonardo, Sotheby’s multiple results in the mere millions might seem almost quaint. But, Christie’s star lot aside, the houses’ sales finished near neck and neck, with Sotheby’s selling 12% more of the lots it offered.
The wry and charming auctioneer and senior director and chairman of Sotheby’s Europe Oliver Barker nonetheless couldn’t ignore his competitor’s big night, remarking after the $6.7 million sale ($7.5 million with fees) of a 2001 Ferrari Formula 1 race car that “it seems like Italian exports do well at contemporary sales.”
Bidders came from 36 countries, Sotheby’s said. As had been the case at Christie’s contemporary sale on Wednesday night, the presence of Asian buyers was muted in comparison to both houses’ Impressionist and Modern sales, suggesting a meaningful trend in activity from that region. The total haul inclusive of fees was a 12% rise from last year’s $276.5 million, over 64 works.
The night’s big sale was
Another star lot,
One of the few lots of the evening that elicited a bidding war,
Works by two other women, subject of a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. They pushed the final price up to $1.45 million, or $1.7 million with fees, more than four times its $300,000 high estimate. Yiadom-Boakye’s The Hours Behind You (2011), from the collection of Jerome and Ellen Stern, also went for over four times its high estimate of $350,000, at a hammer price of $1.3 million, or $1.5 million with fees.
“The whole of the art world is really reconsidering” women artists, said Barker. “I think commercially Louise Bourgeois has only really caught up with some of her contemporaries in the last five years.”
He cited the growing number of solo shows devoted to women in museums around the world, but said the auction house wasn’t going after consignments based on an artist’s gender.
“We haven’t consciously gone out and said, ‘Oh, we need women artists,’” he said. “I think that would be a little bit sexist, actually.”
Another Basquiat, Flash in Naples (1983), went for $7 million, or $8.1 million with fees, just making its low estimate. Featuring two bright red figures of cartoon superhero The Flash against a grid of colorful lines, the work nonetheless brought its consigner a considerable return: It had last sold in 2010 for $3.3 million at Sotheby’s in New York.
Despite the many works that had just one or two bids, Billault and his colleagues seemed pleased with the results. It was the second time this week that Sotheby’s followed this well-orchestrated but low-drama sales strategy, following its Tuesday night Impressionist and Modern sale, which brought in $269.6 million over 64 lots, many of which also had a bare minimum of bidders.
“They sold almost everything off. I think it’s the strategy of the season,” said Morgan Long, a senior director of the Fine Art Group in London.
Anna Louie Sussman