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Smith Sculpture Wins $23.8M At Sotheby’s Contemporary Sale

Sotheby’s Part One sale of contemporary art on Nov. 9 was its best to date, realizing $114.5 million, above a presale estimate of $78/108 million. The total was reached with a sale of just 48 lots (six were unsold), bringing the average lot price much closer to that of Christie’s than the overall sale figures

NEW YORK—Sotheby’s Part One sale of contemporary art on Nov. 9 was its best to date, realizing $114.5 million, above a presale estimate of $78/108 million. The total was reached with a sale of just 48 lots (six were unsold), bringing the average lot price much closer to that of Christie’s than the overall sale figures would suggest.

Topping the sales list at $23.8 million was David Smith’s Cubi XXVIII, 1965, the last in his final series of “Cubi” sculptures, most of which are in museum collections. This one came from Texan businessman and former Sotheby’s shareholder Sid Bass. The price was more than double the high estimate of $12 million, and the highest recorded in a contemporary art sale. It was taken by Larry Gagosian, bidding against Dominique Levy, for Los Angeles collector Eli Broad.

Eight of the other top nine lots sold were guaranteed. In order to catch up with Christie’s consignments, Sotheby’s had extended guarantees on 24 lots with a combined low estimate of approximately $50 million. In the early stages of the sale the policy appeared to be backfiring. Two Richard Prince paintings consigned by Jose Mugrabi—Untitled (Cowboys), estimated at $600,000/800,000, and Untitled (Fashion), estimated at $300,000/400,000—and a Chris Ofili 2001 picture, Strange Eyes, with too big an estimate ($800,000/1 million), went unsold. Later a guaranteed 1980 Gilbert & George work, Dead Masks, was passed; and a guaranteed 1967 Self-Portrait by Andy Warhol took $464,000, well below the high $800,000 estimate, from Mugrabi.

When asked by ARTnewsletter whether the guarantees had been profitable, Sotheby’s CEO William Ruprecht simply said, “Yes.” Among the top-selling lots were Warhol’s 1964 Jackie Frieze, consigned by Italian collector Attilio Codognato, which sold at a mid-estimate $9.2 million; Cy Twombly’s Untitled (New York City), 1968, from Chicago collector Francis Dittmer, which fell close to the bottom estimate for a record $8.7 million; and another Twombly, Untitled (Rome), 1961, which earned a within- estimate $7.9 million from Gagosian, bidding for Broad. All were guaranteed.

Also guaranteed were Jean-Michel Basquiat’s The History of Black People, 1983, consigned by Paris dealer Enrico Navarra, which made $5.2 million; Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Self Portrait, 1976, which fell to Andrew Fabricant for $5.2 million; and Jeff Koons’ Lifeboat, 1985, which fetched $3.4 million—all among the top lots and all within estimates.

Record prices were less plentiful than at Christie’s, but spread as equally between older- and younger-generation artists. In the former category, apart from the Smith and the Twombly works, were: Louise Bourgeois’ eight-foot bronze Spider, 1997, which was acquired by a Greenwich, Conn., collector for $3 million (estimate: $1.5/2 million); Vija Celmins’ 1964 oil on canvas, Pan, which made $545,600 (estimate: $400,000/600,000); and Warhol’s Set of Five Boxes . . ., consigned with a guarantee by Mugrabi, which was won by Miami collector Martin Margulies for $1.25 million (estimate: $1/1.5 million)—a sculpture record for Warhol.

In the latter category, records tumbled for Francis Alÿs, whose El soplon (The prompter), 1995—a group of four paintings—sold for $632,000 (estimate: $150,000/200,000) to the The Jumex Collection collection, Mexico; for Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose group of seven portraits of Henry VIII and His Wives, 1999, from the Charles Saatchi collection, were bought for $744,000 (estimate: $350,000/450,000) by Thea Westreich Associates; and for Damien Hirst, whose circular butterfly painting The Most Beautiful Thing in the World, 2003, bought by Mugrabi from Gagosian in 2003 for $500,000, now sold for $1.3 million (estimate: $950,000/1.2 million)—a record for a Hirst painting.

When it came to other younger European artists, there was resistance to paying more than the low estimate for paintings by Luc Tuymans and Franz Ackermann, but a bookshelf sculpture by Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Read), 2002, was well up with prices for her latest works at Gagosian Gallery, London, going above the high $300,000 estimate to fetch $408,000 from dealer Nancy Whyte.

Although the sold-by-lot rate was good, a high percentage of works were sold on or below their low estimates. Hammer sales below estimate were obtained for Basquiat’s Warrior, 1982, sold to Hugues Joffre for $1.8 million, including premium (estimate: $1.8/2.5 million); and for Andreas Gursky’s May Day I, 1997, won by Alicia Bona for $192,000 (estimate: $200,000/300,000).

Gagosian bought two lots below estimate—Ed Ruscha’s You and Your Neighbours, 1987, for $576,000 (estimate: $600,000/800,000); and Koons’ sculpture Encased—Two Rows (12 Wilson Michael Jordan Basketballs), 1983-93, for $352,000 (estimate: $400,000/500,000). L&M Arts bought another Koons piece, the mirror sculpture Little Girl, 1988, for $632,000 (estimate: $600,000/800,000).

For Warhol it was a good night. In addition to the $9.2 million price for Jackie Frieze, seven of the artist’s nine works on offer were sold within or above estimate, even though most were guaranteed. A large Flowers, 1964, made the highest price for the subject in that size (84-by-84 inches), selling for $6.7 million (estimate: $4/6 million). A 1981 picture in acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, $, scored the highest price for a dollar-sign picture—$1.6 million (estimate: $700,000/900,000). The work Nine Blue Marilyns (Reversal Series), 1979, sold comfortably within a bullish estimate for $2.5 million to property developer, Harry Lis. A small 1967 Warhol Self-Portrait fetched $1.9 million from art adviser Abigail Asher, surpassing the high estimate of $1.5 million.

The Alexander Calder market continued to look strong, too, with a maquette for Haverford Monster, 1944, doubling estimates to sell for $1.5 million; and the white-painted mobile Aux Shahn, 1967, falling to Christophe van de Weghe for a top estimate $1.2 million.

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