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Auction Items: Flipping a Kerry James Marshall, Day-Sale Surprises, and Jeff Koons Oddities

Kerry James Marshall, Still Life With Wedding Portrait, 2015.

Kerry James Marshall Smashes Record

As you may have heard, Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi (ca. 1500) brought the house down at Christie’s New York on Wednesday night, selling for $450.3 million—the most ever paid for any artwork at auction and the most ever forked over in any transaction for a single piece of art, at least as far as anyone knows.

But it was not the only work shattering records. Minutes before that 500-year-old piece hit the block, a two-year-old Kerry James Marshall painting, Still-Life with Wedding Portrait, went up for sale and drew strong bidding, eventually selling for $5.04 million with buyer’s premium, a new record for the artist at auction, and a figure well above the $1.5 million high estimate the auction house had tagged to the piece.

Marshall donated the painting, then brand new, to a charity sale to benefit the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, in 2015, where it sold for $750,000. ARTnews understands that a rumor was floating around after that sale that the consignor had potentially planned to give the painting, which depicts Harriett Tubman and her first husband, John, as a gift to the MCA. It was included in Marshall’s mid-career retrospective, which opened at the MCA in April 2016 and traveled to the Met Breuer in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles.

According to the industry newsletter the Baer Faxt, the gallerist and art adviser Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn chased the Marshall to $4.2 million. Greenberg also bid on the painting when it was up for sale at the MCA (which accounts for talk around Chicago at the time that Jay Z and Beyoncé, known to be Greenberg clients, were in the running for it). She was pleased to have another shot at the piece on Wednesday night, she said, and sorry she lost it, but she expressed some dismay at its having been flipped after a charity sale.

While $5.04 million is a huge result for any picture, placing Marshall in a rarefied field of contemporary artists whose work can command such a number at auction, it is not an anomaly in the market for his work. The dealer Jack Shainman, who has shown the artist since 1993, told ARTnews that Marshall’s paintings have sold at comparable prices on the secondary market.

Marshall has been vocal about his goal of getting more black figures into museums, starting with his own work, and many of his most important paintings are held by institutions. This has, in part, accounted for the rarity of his work at auction. Artists take a risk when they put up their work for a charity that it will end up on the market. It remains to be seen whether the current owner will make Still-Life With Wedding Portrait available for public view.

Sources say the seller was Jay and Gretchen Jordan. Jay is a Deerfield, Illinois–based industrialist and investor and co-founder of the Jordan Co., a private investment firm. The Jordans attended the charity sale, and are listed the catalogue for Marshall’s traveling retrospective as the lenders of the painting.

“It carries a huge weight in his practice, and was done with such sincerity,” the collector Bob Rennie said of Still-Life with Wedding Portrait. Rennie, who is based in Vancouver, owns a prodigious number of Marshall’s works and will open an exhibition of Marshall on June 1 at his private museum in the city. He said that, while there is nothing stopping a collector from selling an artwork, and that it happens frequently, in this case he “felt it in the pit of my stomach,” and wondered if Marshall might feel he had been “taken advantage of.”

“We should all be talking about these things,” Rennie said. “None of us are saints but maybe there is a safer road for relationships between collectors, dealers and artists.”

George Condo Craziness

Day-sale denizens could not get enough of George Condo this week.

At Phillips, a 1990 work estimated at $100,000 to $150,000 ended up going for a sporty $591,000. At Christie’s, a 2005 Condo went for $924,500, nearly three times its $350,000 high estimate. And a Condo at Sotheby’s was all set to go even higher, with its high estimate already at $1.2 million.

When bidding opened Friday afternoon at Sotheby’s, specialist Bernie Lagrange came in with a quick $1.2 million bid before being overwhelmed by colleagues Clarissa Vallet, Yuki Terase, and David Rothschild, who got things to cool for a sec with a $1.6 million bid. But after some further sparring, postwar and contemporary head Alex Branczik entered the fray with a $2.6 million lob, before being overtaken out of nowhere by an online bidder. That online bidder then went toe-to-toe with Terase—who may have been fielding bids from a certain client of hers, Condo fanatic Yusaku Maezawa?

Regardless of who it was, that bidder didn’t win it, because the online bidder snagged it at a hammer of $3.4 million, or $4.1 million with fees. Evening sale prices on a Friday afternoon!

The Daytime Action at Christie’s

On Thursday—just as the press and VIPs were being ushered around the Anselm Kiefer/Auguste Rodin show at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia—Kiefer’s Makulisten, Immakulisten (2008) just made it to that magical $1 million figure, over an $800,000 estimate.

Some artists from California, whether native or adopted, fared nicely. Ed Ruscha’s Ice (1993) got hot! With an $800,000 high estimate, it went for $1.9 million. Jonas Wood’s star continues to rise, with a roughly six-foot-square still life from 2008 beating its $350,000 top estimate to sell for $588,500. And a Martin Wong owned by the late, great collector Melva Bucksbaum, The Flood (1984), more than doubled its $70,000 top estimate to make $162,500.

KAWS commotion! The artist had a painting go for $396,000, well above its $250,000 high estimate, and a 2014 Aaron Garber-Maikovska made $118,750 against a $50,000 high estimate.

No one wanted the gigantic 120-by-168-inch Jeff Koons painting of the debut of the artist’s flower Puppy in a Documenta 9–upstaging unveiling in front of the Residenzschloss Arolsen in Hesse, Germany, in 1992. Fine. We’ll take it.

The Day Sales at Phillips

Remember a few months back when Mark Grotjahn saw a work, billed as his, set to go on the block at the Phillips New Now sale, and put it on Instagram with a caption that read, “I’m not sure I made this. Either way it sucks,” and then Phillips pulled the work from the sale? Well, it finally made its way to the block yesterday at the house’s day sales, and sold for an admirable $75,000, over a $30,000 high estimate—the same estimate it had in the “New Now” sale before it was pulled. (Rumors floated after the initial yanking of the work that the consignor was art adviser Kimberly Chang, and that Grotjahn made the small work for her—hence the giant “K” in the bottom right corner.)

Phillips also saw records set for a number of artists, including the painter Shara Hughes, one of the stars of this year’s Whitney Biennial, whom Bloomberg reporter Katya Kazakina pegged last month as an artist with a fast-growing market. Her work soared past its $15,000 high estimate, selling for $85,000. Other artists with new records thanks to Phillips include Sanya Kantarovsky ($32,500), Kon Trubkovich ($56,250), and Titus Kaphar ($40,000).

Laura Owens saw her work go way beyond estimates at the Sotheby’s evening sale on Thursday night, and the buzz of her show at the Whitney extended to the day sales as well. At Phillips, a bundle of two works that were sold separately at Christie’s in March 2005, for $10,200 and $4,800, went together for $37,500, over a high estimate of $18,000.

You always get a few passes at the day sales, but they can be interesting. The price point may have been too high for Louise Bourgeois’s The Loved Hand—high estimate $250,000—and ditto for a Damien Hirst cabinet work that had a high estimate of $800,000.

And—why not close this section with this?—a magenta Jeff Koons multiple, Balloon Venus, made to accompany a Dom Pérignon bottle, sold for $75,000, beating its $50,000 high estimate. The work was from an edition of 650 plus 40 artist’s proofs, meaning that, at Phillips sale price, the entire run could be valued at about $51.8 million.

The Action as the Sun Shines on Sotheby’s

Ad Reinhardt has been having quite a day today up on York Avenue. One work from 1950 that worked its way through various New York and Los Angeles collections bested its high estimate of $600,000 en route to a $1.15 million result. Another Reinhardt painting, one that made its debut at a show in a Brooklyn synagogue, went for more than four times its high estimate of $200,000, selling for $1.15 million as well.

No-reserve alert! A Julian Schnabel sketch of fellow artist Blinky Palermo sold for just $6,250 even though the low estimate was $20,000. Indeed, there were deals to be had, especially in the case of a Louise Nevelson wood sculpture from 1975 with a low estimate of just $1,500 that sold for just $3,500.

On the other hand, there has been some seriously pricey action going down as well—a trio of works by Willem de Kooning sold at the day sales for $1.1 million, $1.3 million, and $2.7 million.

Many lucky people are in New Orleans for the opening of the triennial Prospect.4, which opens to VIPs today. One of the artists featured is the late, great Barkley L. Hendricks, and one of his works was sold for $200,000, above a $150,000 high estimate.

The afternoon sales began with a run of work of some of the more coveted market artists, such as Jennifer Guidi, a Los Angeles artist who is known to be quite calculating when it comes to the pricing and placing of her work. Estimated to sell for a high of $40,000, it exploded off the block and ended up going for $137,000.

A few lots later, up came a Mark Grotjahn (who happens to be Guidi’s husband), and David Schrader beat out a few other specialists to win it at a $140,000 hammer, $175,000 with fees. And then Wood continued his strong showing when specialist Charlotte Van Dercook won Pink Plant Two (2014) for $915,000, way over the $400,000 high estimate. 

And while the Sotheby’s sale is still full steam ahead, with about 100 lots still to go as this story goes to press, we’ve already seen at least one major auction record. Jack Whitten’s Ghost of Joseph Beuys (1986) sold to a bidder on the phone with Sotheby’s Europe chairman Helena Newman for a $700,000 hammer, or $855,000 with fees, beating out the record set at the Sotheby’s day sales last May, when Epsilon Group, III (1976) sold for $672,500. Next May, maybe you can find a work by Whitten slotted into the evening sales instead.

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