$448 Million Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Sale Led by Bacon and Twombly
Photo courtesy of Christie’s.
Wednesday night’s $448 million Post-War and Contemporary sale at Christie’s New York showed the appetite for fresh-to-market works is stellar, if not voracious.
The results were a notable increase from November’s total of $277 million, thanks to a handful of high-value lots, including four works that together made up more than one third of the total.
Those results suggested something of a comeback at the top end of the market, a segment of the auction market that had declined sharply in 2016 as high-rollers held their cards close to the vest during a tumultuous year. The total value sold of works priced above $10 million fell by more than half last year, according to The Art Market | 2017, a report published recently by Art Basel and UBS, in a year when worldwide auction sales dropped by 26%.
The sale finished with 96% of lots sold, or 68 out of 71, and a 99% rate sold by value. The result without the buyer’s premiums came to $391.3 million, falling within the estimated $339.2 million to $462.8 million range. The vast majority of the works were fresh to market, 85% having not been for sale in at least 20 years, something which tends to stoke demand.
Two lots were withdrawn, including a pricey untitled 1977 painting by
The evening’s total was lifted by the sale of four headline works, which combined sold for over $167 million. While 82% of the lots fell within or exceeded their estimates, bidding was often subdued, even for featured works such as
The Bacon triptych sold for a total $51.7 million, or $46 million before the buyer’s premium. That fell short of the work’s estimate, provided on request, of in excess of $50 million. The portrait was the first painted of Bacon’s lover and muse, who according to (a likely false) legend met the artist while attempting a break-in of his studio. It once belonged to famed children’s books author Roald Dahl before passing to the current consignor.
La Hara (1981),
Whitney Biennial and comes from the Spiegel collection.
Warhol’s Last Supper (1986), by contrast, had a feistier night, running all the way up to $16.5 million ($18.7 million with the buyer’s premium) from a starting bid of $4.5 million, and coming in at nearly three times the low estimate of $6 million.
Twenty-five of the sale’s lots came from the collection of Emily and Jerry Spiegel, New York arts patrons and early supporters of artists like Bloomberg reported. The other daughter, Lise Spiegel Wilks, gave Sotheby’s a prize Basquiat for a guarantee of at least $60 million, according to the Bloomberg report.
Across the Wednesday night sale, 55 lots sold for over $1 million, and 11 of those went for $10 million or above.
Four artists notched new records at auction:
Younger artists had a fairly strong night. Bidding for
Christie’s reported total art sales in 2016 of $5.4 billion, down for the second straight year from 2014’s high of $8.4 billion. The majority, $4.4 billion, came through public auction sales, and the rest through private sales ($935.5 million) and online sales ($67.1 million). Overall sales in the global art market were estimated at slightly under $57 billion in 2016.
Speaking after Wednesday’s sale, Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti said he envisions private sales rising in tandem with auction sales, citing consistent 12% to 15% annual growth in private sales at his house. He said the private sales business often generated more business for the auction side, and vice versa, countering reports that the growth of private sales, where the priciest works could be shopped around more discreetly, as a portion of the major houses’ businesses is cannibalizing their public auctions.
Wednesday’s sale results suggest the Post-War and Contemporary sector will likely continue to dominate the auction market, following some speculation of in recent years of a comeback from the Impressionist and Modern art segment, with collectors using those works that serve as a more stable store of value as a hedge against political and economic uncertainty. Post-war and contemporary art accounted for 52% of the fine art auction market in 2016, according to The Art Market | 2017, up from 32% in 2009 and its highest share on record. The report’s author defines post-war and contemporary artists as those born after 1910.
Despite their growing share of the auction market, post-war and contemporary auction sales dipped alongside the broader market last year too, falling 18% to a total of $5.6 billion and down 28% from the 2014 peak of $7.9 billion.
The major post-war and contemporary evening auctions continue on Thursday with evening sales at Phillips and Sotheby’s. They come after decidedly mixed results in the first half of the week for Impressionist and Modern art. Monday’s Christie’s sale came to $289.1 million with buyer’s premiums included, while Sotheby’s saw its star lot withdrawn on the day of its Tuesday sale, dragging its total down to $173.8 million.
Anna Louie Sussman is Artsy’s Art Market Editor.