The impact of Christie’s sitting out the contemporary post-war auctions will become more apparent at its next contemporary and post-war evening auction in October, as part of the auction house’s rationale for canceling in June was to focus on building a robust selection of works for auctions in October and March. Christie’s could be vindicated if the extra time and attention does woo important consignments and buyers for upcoming sales.
Art advisor Todd Levin said the house’s choice may pay off, citing its tightly choreographed New York evening contemporary sale in May, which brought in $448 million—or roughly $49 million more than June and May evening contemporary sales at Sotheby’s combined (of which roughly one-fourth came from the single Basquiat sale).
“From my point of view, Christie’s is playing this in a far more strategic way than Sotheby’s,” said Levin.
Christie’s did hold an Impressionist and Modern evening auction on Tuesday, bringing in a total of £149.5 million with fees, a more than 400% increase from its equivalent sale last June and slightly above the equivalent sale at Sotheby’s the prior week, but still barely past the post of its low estimate of £141.3 million and nowhere near its high estimate of £191.7 million.
Christie’s sold all but two of 32 lots, including ’s
record-setting £36 million for Birds’ Hell
(1937–38), which had been on view in New York in May. In a post-sale press conference, Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkkänen compared the achievement to the earth-shattering leap American long-jumper Bob Beamon performed in 1968 Olympics. Pylkkänen also noted the increasing globalization of these sales, citing the importance of Asian buyers throughout the week.
One of the two lots that failed to sell was ’s Einzelne Häuser (Häuser mit Bergen)
(1915), which carried a low estimate of £20 million. The surprise failure of a star lot was reminiscent of Sotheby’s last-minute withdrawal of another Schiele, Danaë
(1909), from its May evening sale in New York. At the time, many art world observers suggested that the work itself was the problem, since it didn’t exhibit the artist’s signature style.
Now those looking to the health of the market turn to next week’s Old Masters sales in London, though works from that period operate on a different set of dynamics than contemporary and post-war pieces. Regardless, the contemporary and post-war sales give observers reason to be hopeful that the market is in a healthy spot, with the potential to grow further.