ARTnewsletter Archive

Strong Contemporary Sales Signal Market Confidence

Amid concerns that recent turmoil in the U.S. financial markets might impact art sales heading into the fall, art world observers paid close attention to season openers for contemporary art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Both houses posted strong totals and robust prices for established artists.

NEW YORK—Amid concerns that recent turmoil in the U.S. financial markets might impact art sales heading into the fall, art world observers paid close attention to season openers for contemporary art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Both houses posted strong totals and robust prices for established artists.

Sotheby’s mid-season contemporary sale on Sept. 12 realized $13.1 million for 469 lots, of which 381, or 81.2 percent, were sold. By value the sale brought 92.5 percent. The total surpassed February’s $10.7 million total and a year-ago October’s $8.4 million.

The Christie’s auction on Sept. 10—its sixth in a recently initiated series of postwar and contemporary art sales targeting newer collectors, known as the First Open—fetched $12.2 million. Of the 333 lots offered, 254, or 76 percent, found takers. By value the auction was 86 percent sold.

Afterward Christie’s sale specialist Jonathan Laib said the First Open auction “performed superbly, catching the energy and enthusiasm of a market clearly confident and fervent. The strength of the sale was established early on when solid prices were achieved for contemporary artists such as Richard Prince, Mona Hatoum and Ugo Rondinone.” Noting that the sale total was up from the $11.5 million garnered last February, Laib added that “new records were set for several well-established artists.”

An Ektacolor print, Untitled (Cowboy), 1999, by Prince, fetched $241,000 (estimate: $100,000/150,000) at Christie’s. However, buyers were clearly selective: Three other works by Prince—a color print and two works on paper carrying estimates of $30,000/60,000—were bought in. Another work, Joke, Girlfriend, Cowboy, 2001, won $13,750, comfortably above the high estimate of $9,000.

A set of color prints by Rondinone, No. 190 . . ., 2000, fell for $58,600 (estimate: $35,000/45,000). Hatoum’s Untitled, 1992, consisting of two facing, steel wire-mesh chairs, from an edition of three, rose above the high $70,000 estimate to bring $109,000.

Basquiat Work Takes Top $1.16M

Most of the top prices in Christie’s sale were for established contemporary artists, including the top figure of $1.16 million given for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled, 1982, in acrylic and oil stick on canvas (estimate: $1.2/1.8 million), by a private collector.

The second-highest lot was Louise Nevelson’s Dawn’s Presence Two, 1969-75, a mixed-media work that sold for a record $552,000, way more than double the $200,000 high estimate, to a European dealer. And an Alice Neel Portrait (Roberta Johnson Roensch), 1943-46, earned more than six times its high estimate of $70,000 when it took $444,000. The piece, bought by a U.S. collector, also set an artist’s record. Morris Louis’s Number 29, 1962, in magna on canvas, brought $420,000 (estimate: $250,000/350,000).

Says Laib: “The active bidding on the phones, in the room and through the Web established a well-tuned, positive tone for the season.”

Steven Parrino Leads at Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s top lots also included several artists’ records, including the $432,000 given for Steven Parrino’s Scab Noggin, 1988 (estimate: $60,000/80,000), by an American dealer, the highest price of the sale.

Further records were set for an oil by Allan D’Arcangelo, whose Smoke Dream # 2, 1963, sold for $289,000, soaring past the estimated $8,000/12,000; a work on paper by Sol Lewitt, whose Seven Stars (in seven parts), 1983, brought $252,000 (estimate: $30,000/50,000); and a relief by Robert Longo, made of cast aluminum in three parts, Corporate Wars: Walls of Influence, 1982, which earned $205,000 (estimate: $70,000/90,000).

Comments Sotheby’s senior vice president and head of the fine arts department Jennifer Roth: “There was great depth in the bidding, with strong interest from all over Europe and the United States. . . . More than half the sold lots [exceeded] their high estimate. Today’s results show continued strength in this segment of the art market.”

Other top prices in the sale were realized for works by Keith Haring ($192,000), Victor Vasarely ($181,000) and Julian Schnabel ($168,000).

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