Art Market

A Look Ahead at the March 2023 Auctions

Arun Kakar
Feb 24, 2023 8:13PM

If the art world ended 2022 with fears of recession, inflation, and market correction, then 2023 has gotten underway with a sense of trepidatious optimism.

In addition to the tentative positivity that followed the inaugural Art SG fair in Singapore, the fourth edition of Frieze Los Angeles reported strong sales which have helped to dispel urgent worries of a market downturn.

For many market watchers, however, the real test of resilience lies ahead as the March auction season gets underway with a number of tentpole sales. Here, we’ll take a brief look at the happenings under the hammer over the year thus far, and preview the slate of sales ahead.

The most expensive sales of 2023 so far

Peter Paul Rubens, The Head of John the Baptist Presented to Salome, c. 1609. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.


According to data from the Artsy Price Database, 26 works have hammered for more than $1 million so far this year at the time of writing.

The three most expensive works sold at auction so far this year were from the same sale: “Baroque: Masterpieces from the Fisch Davidson Collection,” which took place at Sotheby’s in New York on January 26th.

The sale was led by Peter Paul Rubens’s Salome presented with the head of Saint John the Baptist (1609), which hammered for $26.9 million. It marked the third-highest auction total for the Flemish master, and was well ahead of the total for the second- and third-most expensive works from the sale: Penitent Saint Mary Magdalene (ca. 1620s) by Orazio Gentileschi and Christ Crowned with Thorns (1616/17) by Valentin de Boulogne, which both hammered for $4.89 million apiece.

Valentin de Boulogne, Christ Crowned with Thorns, 1616/17. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Robert Colescott, Miss Liberty, 1980. Courtesy of Bonhams.

The fourth-most expensive work of the year thus far was J.M.W. Turner’s Pope’s Villa at Twickenham (1808), which hammered at $4.62 million at Christie’s Old Masters sale in New York on January 25th. The sale means that the top four works at auction so far this year have all been for Old Master paintings, which experienced an exceptionally strong round of sales: Christie’s and Sotheby’s main Old Master sales reached a combined total of $149 million on January 25th.

The fifth-most expensive work, Miss Liberty (1980) by Robert Colescott, is also the most expensive contemporary work of the year so far. The seven-foot-tall painting sold for $4.5 million at Bonhams’s post-war and contemporary sale in Los Angeles on February 17th.

Other notable sales

  • More than 400 artworks and items from the collection of late Vogue editor André Leon Talley sold for a combined $3.55 million at Christie’s in New York on February 15th. Two Andy Warhol works—Candy Box (True Love) (1984) and Diana Vreeland Rampant (after Jacques Louis David, Napoleon at St. Bernard) (1980)—shared the highest total, selling for $94,500 each.
  • The 10th anniversary of Phillips’s “London Editions” sale on January 26th totaled £6.4 million ($7.95 million), led by David Hockney’s Dog Wall (1998), which sold for £327,600 (£327,600). The auction house’s equivalent “New York Editions” sale, held on February 15th, realized a $1.4 million total. Ascent; Olympic; Leeches; and Liberty (1982–83), a set of four screenprints attributed to “After Jean-Michel Basquiat” led the sale at $119,700, almost double its low estimate of $60,000.
  • An Albert Willem acrylic on canvas, The mountain air provided a pleasant atmosphere (2020), led the sales at Sotheby’s “Contemporary Discoveries” in London on January 25th. The work hammered for £239,400 ($295,586), 1,815% higher than its low estimate of £10,000 and a new auction record for the Belgian ultra-contemporary artist.

Sales to watch for in the month ahead

February 28th

Christie’s will get a head start on the March season with a pair of sales on February 28th in London. The 20th/21st century evening sale gets underway with a number of significant works from across Impressionist, modern, and contemporary categories. Pablo Picasso’s Femme dans un rocking-chair (Jacqueline) (1956) leads the sale with a high estimate of £20 million ($24 million), followed by an impressive slate that includes luminaries such as Paul Cézanne, Lucian Freud, and Georg Baselitz. A number of buzzy contemporary names also feature in the sale, including Amoako Boafo, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Adrian Ghenie.

The sale is immediately followed by the 22nd edition of the “Art of the Surreal” evening sale, which features 32 lots led by an “exceptional” collection of 25 works from two unnamed San Francisco collectors with a particular interest in exiled and women artists. Highlights include Remedios Varo’s Retrato del Doctor Ignacio Chávez (1957), which has a high estimate of £3.5 million ($4.2 million), and Quería ser pájaro (1960) by Leonora Carrington, which has a high estimate of £1.4 million ($1.6 million). Carrington set a new auction record last year for The Garden of Paracelsus (1957), which sold for $3.25 million in May. The sale will also feature works from notable women Surrealists such as Dorothea Tanning, Leonor Fini, and Stella Snead.

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, 1986. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

March 1st

In Hong Kong, bidding for Sotheby’s “Contemporary Discoveries | Down the Rabbit Hole” sale will close on March 1st. The curated auction, named after the onset of the Year of the Rabbit, is geared towards art that can “offer a form of escapism,” and features works from Ayako Rokkaku, Chun Kwang-Young, Genieve Figgis, and Jordi Ribes.

In London, Sotheby’s modern and contemporary evening sale is headlined by what the auction house is calling a “monumental masterpiece” from Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild (1986), with an estimate in excess of £20 million ($14 million). Works from the series of 24 large-scale paintings are among the German artist’s most expensive at auction: Abstraktes Bild (1994) sold at Christie’s last year for $38 million.

Sotheby’s is also eyeing up a potential auction record for Wassily Kandinsky for Murnau mit Kirche II (1910), which could reach as much as £54 million ($45 million). The sale is rounded out with highlights by fellow 20th-century heavyweights Edvard Munch and Lucien Freud. That same evening, “The Now Evening Auction” will narrow the focus to artists of the 21st century, featuring the work from ultra-contemporary names such as Cecily Brown, Chloe Wise, and Shara Hughes.

Christie’s post-war and contemporary sale, meanwhile, takes place across town and is led by “important” works on paper by David Hockney and Yoshitomo Nara, and “exceptional” paintings by the likes of Marlene Dumas and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Eyes will also be trained on works by a number of trendy names including Flora Yukhnovich, George Rouy, Caroline Walker, Scott Kahn, and Ewa Juszkiewicz, all of whom set records at auction last year, according to the Artsy Price Database.

March 2nd

The next day, Phillips will hold its 20th-century and contemporary art evening sale in London, with a mix of late 20th century and ultra-contemporary blue-chip lots. Gerhard Richter’s Mathis (1983) has the top high estimate of the sale at £15 million ($18 million) and is followed by [No Title] (1984) by Willem de Kooning, which has a high estimate of £9 million ($10.8 million). Works by Clare Tabouret, Banksy, Cecily Brown, and Shara Hughes round out the top lots of the evening.

March 3rd

Phillips’s day sale on March 3rd is led by Sigmar Polke’s Panorama - Lukrativer Handel Mit Der Luft (1997), which has a high estimate of £600,000 ($722,000) and features works from the collection of collector Jimmy Belilty, including by Günther Förg, Bruce Nauman, Jenny Holzer, and Richard Pettibone.

March 7th

Artsy’s post-war and contemporary sale closes on March 7th and includes sought-after works by contemporary stars, including Allison Zuckerman, Anna Park, Isshaq Ismail, Jonny Niesche, Todd Bienvenu, Robert Nava, and Vaughn Spann. See our specialists’ top picks.

Susan Chen, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, 2023. Courtesy of Phillips.

Yuan Fang, Expanse (mask), 2022. Courtesy of Phillips.

March 8th

In New York, Christie’s will stage its “Contemporary Edition” sale on March 8th, which features more than 150 prints and multiples by post-war and contemporary artists including Keith Haring, Yayoi Kusama, and KAWS. Estimates range from $1,000–$60,000. The sale will also feature prints from the collection of Kenwal Steel sold in support of GLAAD, with highlights including works by Richard Serra, Robert Rauschenberg, and Alex Katz.

That same day across town, Phillips is hosting its 272-lot “New Now” sale, which will hand auction debuts to Yuan Fang and Susan Chen (the latter an Artsy Vanguard 2022 alum). Other highlights include pieces by Frank Stella, Robert Nava, and John Chamberlain. Mickalene Thomas’s Clarivel #7 (2019) leads the expected totals with a high estimate of $600,000.

March 9th

The next day, also in New York, Sotheby’s will host its “Contemporary Curated” sale, which features a selection of works by “trailblazing” post-war artists such as Philip Guston, Faith Ringgold, and Lynne Drexler, alongside works by fashionable contemporary names including Michel Majerus, Julie Mehretu, Salman Toor, and Avery Singer. Estimates have yet to be released.

March 22nd

Towards the end of the month, Artsy will hold a prints auction, running from March 22nd through 29th. Highlights include Andy Warhol’s John Wayne, from Cowboys and Indians ( F. & S. II.377) (1986) and Marilyn (F. & S. II.31) (1967), which have low six-figure estimates, as well as works from Yayoi Kusama, David Hockney, and after Jean-Michel Basquiat, which have estimates in the mid-five figure range. The sale will also feature a considerable number of works from prominent emerging and mid-career artists—including Bony Ramirez, Brian Calvin, Emily Mae Smith, Danielle Orchard, Vaughn Spann, Harold Ancart, and Derrick Adams—at price points as low as $1,000.

Other notable sales in March

Max Ernst & Marie-Berthe Aurenche, Portrait d’André Breton, 1930. Courtesy of Bonhams.

  • Bonhams’s post-war and contemporary art sale in London on March 16th will feature a number of blue-chip works from the likes of Anish Kapoor, Frank Auerbach, and Caroline Walker.
  • Art dealer, investor, and writer Adam Lindemann is selling a selection of 40 works at Christie’s on March 8th, which are expected to be valued at more than $22 million. The top lot is Andy Warhol’s Little Electric Chair (1964), which has a high estimate of $6 million.
  • Phillips’s 20th-century and contemporary art evening sale in Hong Kong on March 30th will feature lots from Yayoi Kusama, Matthew Wong, and Loie Hollowell, with further details set to be announced.
  • Sotheby’s auction of the Robert and Helga Ehret collection will take place in Paris on March 16th, featuring works from Edgar Degas, Franz Marc, and Emil Nolde.
  • A portrait of André Breton by Max Ernst and Marie-Berthe Aurenche is a standout in Bonhams’s La Révolution Surréaliste sale on March 29th in Paris. The work has an estimate of €400,000–€600,000 ($421,926–$632,889).
Arun Kakar
Arun Kakar is Artsy’s Art Market Editor.