During its post-war and contemporary evening sale this past May, Sotheby’s made history by securing new records for three black artists in a single sale:
. The latter saw his stunning mural Past Times
(1997) sell to music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs for $21.1 million, quadrupling the artist’s auction record.
Sotheby’s brought about similar successes for black artists at its post-war sale this November. ’s I’ll Put a Spell on You
(2004) hammered at $800,000, four times its high estimate, for a new record. There were also records for
, whose work The Businessmen
(1947) sold for a $5.2 million hammer, more than double its high estimate of $2 million, or $6.1 million with fees; and for
, whose painting Ancient Mentor I
(1985) sold for an above-estimate $1.8 million at the hammer, which came to $2.2 million with fees.
The trend continued on Thursday at Christie’s. A new record was achieved for
, when his Lady Day II
(1971) sold for $2.1 million with fees. There was also a record broken for
, which had been a late addition to the sale. On October 7th, post-war and contemporary chairman Loïc Gouzer uploaded an image to Instagram with the caption: “Pretty great #robertcolescott hanging at Moma, if you have a great one DM me asap and if its [sic] good enough we will put it in the evening sale.” On October 26th, Gouzer posted another picture indicating that he had consigned Colescott’s Cultural Exchange
(1987); last Thursday, it sold for a record $912,500, three times its low estimate.
Sell by day
The evening sales may be where the fireworks are, but the best way to judge the health of the market is through the day sales. They are also the best indicators how much profit is left in the bag for the auction houses after a sales week. Consignors rarely pay fees when offering up big lots for the evening sale lots, and sometimes they eat into the house’s premium if that fee was offered as bait to secure the consignment. Such deals are rarer during the day sales, and with hundreds of lots with not-insignificant buyer’s premiums, the fees can add up—especially when such sales are successful.
And successful they were this season. Phillips secured its highest grossing day sale in its history, at $25.5 million, and Sotheby’s saw its day sales topple the $100 million mark for the third season in a row.
Day sales are also opportunities to see which artists more frequently traded on the primary market are drawing the deepest demand, and this season was no different. At Phillips on Wednesday, a
painting estimated to sell for a high estimate of $80,000 sold for $212,500, and a
work with a high estimate of $45,000 sold for $112,500.
The Sotheby’s sale saw an untitled work by
sell for $3.1 million over a $1.8 million high estimate, and ’s Flower Ben
(2002), from the David Teiger collection, went for $945,000 over a high estimate of $350,000. Robert Colescott and Henry Taylor continued their winning streaks, too: An untitled Taylor from 2016 sold for $162,500 over a $35,000 high estimate, and Colescott’s Cotton
(1989) sold for $663,000 over a $150,000 estimate.
At Christie’s post-war afternoon session, a work of Crosby’s came up for the first time all week—she has a slow process and produces less than a dozen paintings per year, making consignments scarce. Buyers pounced on the untitled work on offer from 2010, pushing the bidding far above its $500,000 estimate to a final price, with fees, of $1.4 million.