ARTnewsletter Archive

Rothko, Warhol Star at Sotheby’s $190M Contemporary Auction

Sotheby’s evening sale of contemporary art on May 11 fared slightly better than Christie’s (excluding the collection of Michael Crichton), with the house selling 50, or 94 percent, of the 53 lots on offer.

NEW YORK—Sotheby’s evening sale of contemporary art on May 11 fared slightly better than Christie’s (excluding the collection of Michael Crichton), with the house selling 50, or 94 percent, of the 53 lots on offer. The auction brought in a total of $190million, bettering the $114million/162million overall estimate.

The top lot was a huge purple fright-wig Self Portrait, 1986, by Andy Warhol belonging to fashion designer Tom Ford. The work sold for $32.6million to a private collector bidding through Christie’s Paris expert Gregoire Billault, underbid by dealer Dominique Levy of L&M Arts, New York (estimate: $10million/15million). A red self-portrait of the same dimensions had sold for $3.2million to private collector Peter Brant at Phillips de Pury &Co., New York, in May 2002. The three other known versions of the painting of this size are all in museums. Levy was also an underbidder on a four-panel Flowers, 1964, by Warhol, which sold to dealer Nicholas Maclean for $7.6million (estimate: $5million/7million).

The other big-ticket item of the sale was Mark Rothko’s deep red Untitled, 1961, which had last sold publicly in 1997, for $1.87million. It was then acquired, as revealed by evidence in a current court case, from L&M Arts (then C&MArts) by Dallas collectors Robert and Marguerite Hoffman, and then sold privately by Marguerite Hoffman to Mexican financier David Martinez, who consigned it to this sale. Against competition from new bidder Jonathan Colby, the painting fetched $31.4million against an estimate of $18million/25million. Colby went on to buy an untitled 2005 stainless steel sculpture by Anish Kapoor for $1.1million (estimate: $600,000/900,000) and Joan Mitchell’s Vera Cruz, ca. 1960–62, for $4million (estimate: $3.5million/4.5million). The latter had been bought at Christie’s New York in 1995 for $288,500.

A number of artist records were set. Brice Marden’s Cold Mountain I (Path), 1988–89, sold below its bullish $10million/15million estimate for $9.6million. Maurizio Cattelan’s Untitled, 2001, an installation of a wax self-portrait bust peering up through a hole in the floor, had last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2004 for $2million to dealer William Aquavella. It sold this time for $7.9million to a telephone buyer, underbid by art adviser Philippe Ségalot (estimate: $3million/4million). The same phone bidder later acquired Matthew Day Jackson’s Harriet (Last Portrait), 2006, from the Saatchi Collection, for $662,500 (estimate: $300,000/400,000). That price suggested that the record price for a work by Jackson of £601,250 ($937,950), paid by Laurence Graff in London last February (ANL, 2/23/10), was not completely unfounded, as many thought at the time. Further significant records were set for Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz, whose Conversation Piece III, 2001, sold for $4.9million on a $2.5million/3.5million estimate, and for a sculpture by Ells­worth Kelly, whose Untitled (Totem), 1996, sold for $4million (estimate: $2million/3million) to the Citibank Art Advisory Service.

Other buyers in the room included art adviser Kim Heirston, who bought Frank Stella’s Cinema du Pepsi Sketch I, 1966, for $1.5million (estimate: $800,000/1million); Chicago dealer Paul Gray, of Richard Gray Gallery, who bought Alexander Calder’s Yellows in the Air, 1961, for $1.4million (estimate: $700,000/900,000); New York art adviser Gabriel Catone, who outbid Andrew Fabricant of the Richard Gray Gallery to pay $8.8million (estimate: $4million/6million) for Jackson Pollock’s dripped enamel on paper Number 12A, 1948: Yellow, Gray, Black; and Gallery Hyundai, Seoul, which bought Donald Judd’s horizontal Untitled, 1987 (87–30 Bernstein), for $1.1million (estimate: $600,000/900,000).

Most works coming back onto the market saw a reasonable return, with the exception of Willem de Kooning’s Sagamore, 1955, which had last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2006 for $5.4million, but now took only $3.4million (estimate: $3.5million/4.5million). The biggest markup was for Cecily Brown’s Suddenly Last Summer, 1999, which had been bought last May at Phillips for $662,500, and sold here for $1.1million—a 68 percent increase in one year, the best of the series.

The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat consigned three works to the auction, and all sold well. The highest price of the three was for Untitled (Star­dust), 1983, a portrait of a saxophone player, which sold for $7.25million to a collector who outbid Gagosian for it (estimate: $1.8million/2.5million).

The overall total was dramatically higher than that of last May’s $47million evening sale, though it was still far off the total of $362million for the spring 2008 evening sale, or even Sotheby’s $255million May 2007 evening sale. Still, no one would disagree with Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art, when he summed it up as “a great result.”