ARTnewsletter Archive

Christie’s Postwar Hits $239.7M

Christie’s promised the highest- ever total for a sale of contemporary art on Nov. 15 and duly delivered. The $239.7 million auction comfortably bettered its previous high of $157 million set last November (ANL, 11/22/05

NEW YORK—Christie’s promised the highest- ever total for a sale of contemporary art on Nov. 15 and duly delivered. The $239.7 million auction comfortably bettered its previous high of $157 million set last November (ANL, 11/22/05).

Like Sotheby’s, Christie’s packed its offering with over 80 lots—but it had won more valuable consignments, with a much heftier guarantee program. A total of 38 lots, with a combined low estimate of $93 million, were guaranteed, more than half the total presale low estimate of $160 million. In the end, all but two of them were sold for a total of $150 million, more than half the sale’s proceeds.

Eight lots in the top ten were guaranteed. These included a large 1977 canvas by Willem de Kooning (1904-97), Untitled XXV, which carried an unpublished estimate of $15 million and sold for $27.1 million. From the same series as Sotheby’s $10.6 million de Kooning, it was preferred by two anonymous collectors, one bidding through Citigroup’s Art Advisory Service and the other through former Christie’s staffers and now private dealers Christopher Eykyn and Nicholas Maclean, who eventually won out.

After the auction Amy Cappellazzo, Christie’s international cohead of postwar and contemporary art, was asked about the effect on the art market of recent private sales by entertainment magnate and collector David Geffen. These include $140 million for Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948, and $80 million for Jasper Johns’ False Start, 1959—a painting that fell to Kenneth Griffin, managing director and CEO of Chicago-based Citadel Investment Group. Cappellazzo told ARTnewsletter the sales had undoubtedly given buyers “added confidence.” Another work, a 1955 de Kooning landscape, Police Gazette, was sold by Geffen last month, to hedge-fund manager Steven A. Cohen, who is on the ARTnews list of the top ten collectors in the world, for $63.5 million.

Following the Christie’s sale, when Cappellazzo was asked what price a classic “Woman” painting by de Kooning from the 1950s would command now, she shrugged and looked heavenward. Three days later the story came out that Geffen had sold his Woman III, 1952-53, to Cohen for $137.5 million.

At the auctions overall, more than $70 million of de Kooning works found takers. Additional pieces at Christie’s included a 1952 pastel from his “Women” series, Woman (Seated Woman I), which fetched $9.6 million, more than double the $4.5 million high estimate, from a phone bidder; a medium-sized 1977 abstract painting, Untitled XXIX, which fell to L&M Arts for $8 million (estimate: $5/7 million); and Sagamore, 1955, which went to Rachel Mauro, of Dickinson Roundell Inc., New York, for $5.4 million (estimate: $4/6 million).

Other classic paintings by abstract expressionists to hit new auction highs were a painting by Sam Francis (1923-94), Yellow, 1953, that sold for $4 million (estimate: $1.5/2 million); and a work by Richard Diebenkorn (1922-93), Berkeley 53, 1955, which went to L&M Arts for $6.2 million (estimate: $2.5/3.5 million).

From the same period a 1953 sculpture, Drawing 9/11/53, by David Smith (1906-65), fell to Larry Gagosian, who has been showing Smith’s work in London, for $4.9 million (estimate: $2/3 million). Works-on-paper records fell when a drawing by Arshile Gorky (1904-48), Study for the Betrothal, 1947, was won by dealer Matthew Marks for $2.8 million (estimate: $1.8/2.5 million); and an untitled Barnett Newman (1905-70) ink on paper from 1960 sold to Pace Wildenstein for $352,000 (estimate: $300,0000/400,000).

Topping de Kooning in sales volume were over $100 million worth of works by Andy Warhol (1928-87), which were sold during the week—the bulk ($68 million) at Christie’s, which had three major pictures. One was Orange Marilyn, 1962, which had been bought five years before, by San Francisco collector Roger Evans, for $3.6 million and now sold for $16 million (estimate: $10/15 million). The buyer was bidding through Florence de Botton who runs Christie’s Paris office.

Warhol’s Sixteen Jackies, 1964, fetched $15.7 million (unpublished estimate: $15 million) from Andrew Fabricant, the Richard Gray Gallery, Manhattan. But grabbing the top price, and a new record, was the $17.3 million (estimate: $8/12 million) Mao, 1972—one of only ten large-scale paintings of Chinese dictator Mao Tse-Tung—which went to Hong Kong property developer Joseph Lau, bidding against Fabricant and Swiss dealer Doris Ammann.

Other Pop art works were led by a Roy Lichtenstein (1923-97) work, Yellow and White Brushstrokes, 1965, which fell to L&M Arts for $9.5 million (estimate: $7/9 million). The artist’s 1965 Ceramic Sculpture #7 sold for $565,000 (estimate: $400,000/600,000) to dealer Lucy Mitchell-Innes. A sailcloth, foam-rubber and enamel sculpture by Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929), Popsicle, Hamburger, Price, 1961-62, was purchased by L&M Arts for $632,000 (estimate: $300,0000/400,000). And a 1967 painting by Frank Stella (b. 1936), WFUV Double, sold to dealer Jeffrey Deitch for $1.7 million (estimate: $1/1.5 million). A casualty in this group was a relatively late painting by Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), Our Flag, 1987, which ambitiously had been estimated to break the record at $3.5/4.5 million.

Altogether, 19 records were broken. Of these, four were for minimalist artists: A painted-wood Wall Floor Piece #1, 1976, by Sol Lewitt (b. 1928), made $520,000 (estimate: $300,000/400,000). After strong prices at Sotheby’s, a piece by Robert Mangold (b. 1937), V Series Central Diagonal I (Green), 1968, brought $800,000 (estimate: $250,000/350,000), nearly four times his previous record. An oil-on-masonite picture by Josef Albers (1888-1976), Homage to the Square: Autumn Climax, 1963, climbed to $1.1 million (estimate: $400,000/600,000). The checkered Aluminum Steel Plain, 1969, by Carl Andre (b. 1935), sold to dealer David Zwirner for $2 million (estimate: $900,000/1.2 million).

Figurative paintings from the 1980s made a strong showing, claiming three records. A picture by Eric Fischl (b. 1948), Daddy’s Girl, 1984, was won by Cologne dealer Rafael Jablonka for $1.9 million (estimate: $600,000/800,000). An Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945), Balder’s Träume, 1982, sold for $1.36 million (estimate: $1/1.5 million); and a work by Mark Tansey (b. 1949), Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1987, went to a Korean buyer for $3 million (estimate: $2/3 million).

Among the more contemporary works on offer, Spider, a bronze by Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911) that was conceived in 1997 and cast in 1999, beat the record $3 million set last year for another cast from the edition when it sold for $4 million (estimate: $2.5/3.5 million). Prices for Matthias Weischer (b. 1973) continued to climb, but gradually, when his oil-on-canvas Untitled (Interior), 2002, set a record $441,600 (estimate: $200,000/300,000).

Buyers in this section included New York dealer Neal Meltzer, who bought Mrs., 1999, by Luc Tuymans (b. 1958), for $1.1 million (estimate: $800,000/1.2 million); Matthew Marks, who won a work by Andreas Gursky (b. 1955), Avenue of the Americas, 2001, for $419,200 (estimate: $250,000/350,000); and dealer John Berggruen, who acquired a spot painting by Damien Hirst (b. 1965), Polypectate Sodium, 2004, for $1.5 million (estimate: $750,000/950,000).