“There was cooling, a lot of cooling last night,” Kim Heirston says of the $284 million Sotheby’s Live-stream Evening auction held on October 28. Speaking at Spring Studios for Art Market Monitor and ARTnews Live’s Auction Reaction video Heirston continued, “you can spin it any way you want but there was cooling. It was admirably dealt with and looked better in the end but there was legitimately a lot of bullets dodged.”
“Everything has changed but nothing has changed,” says Koji Inoue, International Senior Director of Postwar and Contemporary Art at Hauser & Wirth, adds in the video, “in the sense that the way we are interacting has changed.” The new format of live-stream sales hasn’t changed “the structure of the sales, the balance and the works that are there.”
“When the right material comes to market,” Inoue continues, “the buyers are there.”
That was certainly true for the Impressionist & Modern Art portion of the sale where 36 lots made $141 million led by Alberto Giacometti’s Femme Leoni which sold for $25.9 million. The Contemporary art part of the sale made nearly $143 million. Although the top lot was a collection of three Alfa Romeo prototypes that sold for $14.8 million, the top work of art in the Contemporary sale was an Alexander Calder sculpture, Sumac 17, with a premium price of $8.3 million.
One of the most anticipated aspects of the auction, the sale of three paintings being deaccessioned from the Baltimore Museum of Art—a Brice Marden, a Clyfford Still, and an Andy Warhol being sold privately—estimated at $65 million, was called off just before the sale. The last-minute cancellation immediately raised questions about demand in the market for these works. According to Kim Heirston, the pre-sale buzz on the Marden and the Still was strong. Nevertheless, there was a good chance that if those works had done well, “the floodgates of deaccessioning,” would have opened.
Sotheby’s also sold three works by Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti. Two of the works ended up being sold privately, a 9-foot tall Grande Femme I with an asking price of $90 million was announced as sold at the beginning of the evening. A second work, Femme de Venise IV was withdrawn from the sale when the consignors took a private offer before the lot came to the block. All three works were being sold, as reported by Bloomberg, by investor Ronald Perelman and his creditors.
Two works which saw unexpected success well above their estimates were late-period Andy Warhols. Although the Warhol market has been dormant at the very top for the last few years, Lifesavers (From Ads) (1985) made $1.7 million against a $1 million high estimate and Albert Einstein (1980) sold for $2.25 million over a $1 million high estimate. The Einstein was one of Warhol’s so-called Jewish Genius series images of 10 prominent 20th Century Jews.
“On the private sales side,” Inoue observed, “there are so many people in the market looking for the Jewish geniuses. And the auction house has clearly picked up on this, too. And they sourced against that, knowing that there would be interest.”
Another artist whose work provoked strong bidding was the late Matthew Wong. Dialogue (2018) sold for $1,677,700, against an estimate of between $200,000-300,000. “He’s a tragic figure,” ARTnews’s Marion Maneker said of the Canadian painter committed suicide at the age of 35, as he was on the cusp of fame. “That’s why there’s so much demand right now. But more importantly, there just seems to be a lot of different markets claiming them as his own. It’s the perfect storm.”
Kim Heirston pointed out that the women of Abstract Expressionism are currently out-performing the men in sales frequency and competition, if not absolute prices. The auction overestimated the buyer’s appetite for Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black on Maroon) (1958), which had been previously auctioned in 2013 at that level, yet saw an increased demand for some of the artists featured in the group biography Ninth Street Women. Lee Krasner’s Camouflage (1963) realized just over $3.7 million and Helen Frankenthaler’s Carousel (1979) made over $4.7 million.