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Usual Suspects Bring Home Bacon As Sotheby’s Sale Sizzles

The surge in contemporary art sales continued the next day, Nov. 9, at Sotheby’s, with a $222.5 million evening sale that auctioneer and contemporary art head Tobias Meyer said “happily flew by estimates” ($151 million/214 million). The result was Sotheby’s fourth-highest total for a contemporary auction.

NEW YORK—The surge in contemporary art sales continued the next day, Nov. 9, at Sotheby’s, with a $222.5 million evening sale that auctioneer and contemporary art head Tobias Meyer said “happily flew by estimates” ($151 million/214 million). The result was Sotheby’s fourth-highest total for a contemporary auction.

Meyer noted the “incredible depth” and “spirited” nature of the bidding. Indeed, for a number of lots he had trouble keeping up with the volley of bids—both from within the room and beyond (by phone, as relayed by Sotheby’s specialists).

Before the sale, the house marked the offering of its star lot—a black-and-white Andy Warhol Coca-Cola bottle painting—by giving Coke bottles to auctiongoers, who sipped as they headed inside. Coca-Cola [4] [Large Coca-Cola], 1962, had last been sold at auction at Christie’s in 1983 for $143,000. This time, it carried a $20 million/25 million estimate. Meyer opened the bidding at $15 million and the work was immediately hotly pursued: one bidder jumped directly to $20 million after a $16 million bid, not bothering with the usual $1 million increments. The Mugrabi family of dealers, seated in the room, vied for the prize but dropped out around $27 million. The piece finally sold to a phone bidder for a total of $35.4 million with premium ($31.5 million hammer).

Bidding was quieter on the next-highest lot, an untitled orange abstract Mark Rothko oil, dated 1955, and in the same collection since 1969. Bidding opened at $17 million; the work sold for $22.5 million (estimate: $20 million/30 million).

Roy Lichtenstein’s oil Ice Cream Soda, 1962,and held since then in the same collection, fetched $14.1 million (estimate: $12 million/18 million).

Demand was robust for Francis Bacon’s Figure in Movement, 1985, which sold for $14.1 million on a $7 million/10 million estimate.

German painter Gerhard Richter was a major focus of the contemporary sales season this time around. Two of his works featured in the top lots at Sotheby’s. A blurred painting, Matrosen (Sailors), 1966 sold to a gentleman in the room for $13.2 million (estimate: $6 million/8 million) against competition from two phone bidders. And Abstraktes Bild, 1992, sold for $11.3 million against an estimate of $5.5 million/7.5 million. Last offered at Christie’s New York in May 2005, it sold for $1.2 million.

Another top seller by Warhol was The Last Supper, 1986, a double image of the classic scene in indigo, which sold for $6.8 million to a bidderin the room. When it was last on the market, the work had fetched $178,500 at Sotheby’s New York in May 1994.

Dealer Larry Gagosian bought Warhol’s drawing Coca-Cola, 1962, for $1.5 million (estimate: $1 million/1.5 million). Three years ago, the drawing fetched £468,500 ($954,369) at Sotheby’s London. Gagosian also acquired Richard Prince’s Untitled (check painting) #12, 2004, originally sold by his Beverly Hills gallery a year after it was made. Estimated at $1 million/1.5 million, the final price was $1.2 million.

Dealer Christophe Van de Weghe bought Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes, 1980, for $1.4 million on an estimate of $1.2 million/1.8 million.

Among the more recently executed and cutting- edge contemporary works on offer was an ink and acrylic on canvas, The Seven Acts of Mercy, 2004, by Julie Mehretu (b. 1970). Estimated at $1.5 million/2 million, the work was underbid by London dealer Jay Jopling before selling to a phone bidder for a record $2.3 million. In September, Sotheby’s had set a record for the artist with the sale of an untitled work that fetched $1 million at its auction of the Neuberger Berman and Lehman Brothers corporate art collections (ANL, 10/5/10).

Another artist record was set, this one for Cady Noland, when Gibbet, 1993–94, a mixed-media work, sold for $1.8 million (estimate: $600,000/800,000). The opening lot of the sale was Urs Fischer’s untitled candle sculpture of a nude woman, 2003, which sold for $1.1 million on a $400,000/600,000 estimate. Jim Hodges also set a record with the $2.1 million (estimate: $500,000/700,000) paid for his elaborate 30-foot floral curtain, When We Stay, 1997.

Jeff Koons and Prince, artists synonymous with the contemporary art market peak just a few years ago, did well too. Koons’s New Shelton Wet/Dry 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Dry 5 Gallon, Double Decker, 1981–87, two carpet cleaners encased in clear acrylic, sold for $3.4 million (estimate: $3 million/5 million). Prince’s joke painting White Woman, 1990, on which there was a third-party guarantee, sold for $3.2 million (estimate: $2.5 million/$3.5 million).

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