“I am thrilled that we were able to get such a great result tonight, and I’m thankful to all the artists who support constructing this building where we can show artists of African and African American descent,” Studio Museum director Thelma Golden said after the sale. “I’m deeply grateful to the artists, and I’m deeply grateful to all of the buyers who understand our mission.”
Taken together, the Mandel Collection sale and the post-war sale were the season’s first test of the contemporary market after the Imp/mod sales that ran Monday through Wednesday, and last week’s sale of Imp/mod masterpieces from the Rockefeller collection at Christie’s. After the sale, Grégoire Billault, head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, said that even if some works did not go as high as the house would have hoped—the Basquiat attracted just two bids, and a drip-on-paper
with a $40 million high estimate hammered at $30 million after just one bid—the amount of in-room bidding on other lots was cause for confidence in the market.
“What speaks to me the most is when you see a room like this one,” Billault said after the sale.
Asked about the fact that the two big lots of the night failed get to the stratospheric, nine-figure levels seen elsewhere in the auction landscape, Billault pointed to the new records set that evening as an indicator of the house’s focus on sourcing work by in-demand artists who incite fierce bidding wars—even if, as he alluded to, the total haul will probably not beat that at the equivalent sale at Christie’s Thursday night, which is expected to exceed $400 million. Sotheby’s may be closing the gap
, but Christie’s has dominated the contemporary sphere for years.
“We are not the biggest in terms of volume, but we are the more relevant,” he said. “We want to be the one who really has their pulse on the market, and read the next move in the market.”
The five works benefitting the Studio Museum in Harlem opened the post-war and contemporary sale. First up was a
that hammered at $5.8 million, or $6.7 million with fees, double its $3 million high estimate. It was followed by ’s Conjured Parts (Dresden)
(2017), which sold for $3.3 million with fees, again doubling its high estimate of $1.5 million; and ’s An Assistance of Amber
(2017), which sold for $550,000 with fees to the client on the phone with Jackie Wachter, a vice president in the contemporary department at Sotheby’s. After the sale, rap producer and collector Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean told Artsy
that he purchased the work by Yiadom-Boakye. The suite was rounded out by a
that sold for $2.3 million, and the record-breaking $3.3 million work by Akunyili Crosby, who releases very few works on the primary market. Her last solo gallery show, at Victoria Miro
in London in 2016, had 18 institutions on the waiting list
trying to buy a work. Her prices on the primary market can be $100,000
or less, but because of the demand, auction is one of the only options for collectors who want to skip the waitlist.