It doesn’t get much better than this—96.3% sold by lot and 98.6% by value. Sotheby’s sold 52 out of the 54 lots on offer, and sold them well-well above the estimates in many cases. According to Tobias Meyer, the evening’s auctioneer, “there was bidding from all parts of the world.” The room was packed with American and European dealers and the room teemed with the usual high rolling collectors. Valentino, Michael Ovitz and Lawrence Graff filled the front rows, and they were all there to bid.
From the beginning, the sale lacked some of the electricity felt at Christie’s sale on Tuesday; the atmosphere was all business. The sale started with the diverse collection of Mary Schiller Myers and Louis S. Myers. It was rich in American and European paintings and sculpture, and featured works by Alice Neel, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Karel Appel, Calder, Judd, Rauschenberg, Katz, Thiebaud, Germain Richier, Krasner and de Kooning. The collection consisted of 20 lots, most of which sold within estimate range. Most notable were two works by de Kooning, one a rare and unusual sculpture, Large Torso (1974). It carried a pre-sale estimate of $ 5–7 million and took in a record price for a sculpture by the artist. It went home with Robert McLain for $5,682,500. The other de Kooning, Untitled XV, a dense oil painting, incited competition by several Sotheby’s phone bidders for the lot. The hammer fell at $5.4. (LEFT: LOT 22, ANDY WARHOL, 200 ONE DOLLAR BILLS, 1962. COURTESY SOTHEBY’S)
The Alice Neel portrait of two transvestites, Jackie Curtis and Rita Red, set a record price for the artist, whose works have steadily increased in value. It was knocked down at $1,650,500 against an estimate of $400,000–500,000.
But things really got interesting when lot 22 the iconic Warhol, 200 One Dollar Bills, painted in 1962—and once owned by the late collectors Robert and Ethel Scull—came on the block. The bidding was sheer theatre, with no less than six vying for the once in a life time chance to own this masterpiece, the bidding jumped from $6 million to $12 million and went up by million-dollar increments. Bidding slowed as the dealer and collector Jose Mugrabi and a telephone bidder locked in a back-and-forth battle. Bidding slowed around $34 million, when Tobias Meyer said, “Come on it’s a masterpiece.” Bidding continued from there at a fast clip and finally was hammered down to applause at $39 million—or $43,762,500 including buyer’s premium to an anonymous client bidding by telephone. The pre-sale estimate was $8-12 million.
It was certainly Warhol’s night. The fresh and pristine Warhol Self portrait owned by Cathy Naso, a student who worked at Warhol’s factory after school in the 1960’s and was given the painting as a gift. When bidding slowed at $5.1 Tobias Meyer piped in that the painting was “fresh as the day it was made”; it had been stored in a closet for over 40 years. Several of the same collectors vied for the work and ultimately, Lawrence Graff took the picture home for $6.1 million, against a low presale estimate of $1–1.5.
On a side note, the consignor via Sotheby’s press office made a heartfelt statement, thanking Andy for giving her “15 minutes of fame.” She indicated that 15 minutes were quite enough.
The impeccably attired Giancarlo Giammetti, seated with Valentino in the first row, purchased the large Hockney, California Art Collector. It’s a picture of a collector with a swimming poolin the background, a symbol of Beverly Hills affluence from 1964. It was hammered down at $5,458,500 including buyer’s premium and carried a pre-sale estimate of $5–7 million. Susan Dunne of Pace Wildenstein Gallery said, “There was an excellent depth of bidding and American collectors have returned to the room.” After playing an influential role in the bidding itself, Tobias Meyer concluded, “The results were consistent with the Impressionists last week the market has re-calibrated itself… collectors are collectors, they want to keep buying… It’s what they do.