On Friday, Christie’s staged its “ONE” sale, a global relay style auction and the first of its kind in the houses’ history. The four-hour long sale achieved a total result of $420 million with 78 lots offered across Christie’s global headquarters in Hong Kong, New York, Paris, and London—led by principal auctioneers across the four regions, Elaine Kwok, Cécile Verdier, Jussi Pylkkänen and Adrien Meyer. The global event closes the first set of milestones of the new virtual auction era. The auction hammered at $362 million, above its pre-sale low estimate of $337 million, realizing a total sell-through rate of 94 percent.
No longer a traditional evening sale, the hybrid auction kicked off with the first session late in the evening at 9:15 p.m. HKT at Christie’s Hong Kong headquarters, and in the morning for New York at 9:15 a.m. EST. Jussi Pyllkkänen opened the livestream with an address to the global audience introducing his colleagues.
“I think the technical ease with which we were able to bid with one another, without a time lag as if we were literally in the same room was sublime,” Pylkkanen said in a statement following the sale. “I think this will have a dramatic effect on our reach.”
In New York, the last leg of the auction, seven works on offer in the sale came with a third-party guarantee. Across the four sessions, the top-grossing lots came last in the Rockefeller Center segment, directed by Adrien Meyer, Christie’s chairman of global private sales.
In a press conference following the sale, Christie’s representatives addressed whether or not the global “ONE” auction format would be deployed again. Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman of postwar and contemporary art, noted the results showed promise for the future. “It shows that the market is ready for new formats of selling, and new formats for thinking about collecting art,” Rotter said.
Kwok, director of Christie’s chairman’s office in Asia, opened the sale to a full room of masked participants observing social distancing and other local health guidelines in the Hong Kong session. The four-location sale proved to be ambitious. The opening lot, a work by Chinese-American artist Martin Wong, revealed the four miked auctioneers fielding incoming bids would be forced to speak over one another. Though the excess noise was benignly disorienting, the production proved to be a reach for even the most experienced auctioneer.
Leading the figures achieved across the international event was Pop master Roy Lichtenstein’s 1994 Nude with Joyous Painting, featuring the artist’s signature comic girl. The postwar masterwork sparked a long bidding war between two competing clients in Hong Kong and New York, and eventually sold for $46.2 million to Asia’s bidder, besting its pre-sale expectation of $30 million.
Barnett Newman’s 1952 blue monochrome Onement V, from his series of the same title, went to a bidder with Ana Maria Celis, head of postwar and contemporary evening sale in New York, for $30.9 million, hammering under its low estimate. Alongside postwar blue-chip names were moderns like Pablo Picasso, whose Les femmes d’Alger (version ‘F’) completed in 1955 inspired by Eugène Delacroix’s masterwork of the same title fetched a total of $29.2 million, besting its pre-sale estimate of $25 million. Another Picasso, a small-scale painting featuring the artist’s minotaur alter-ego and reference to his famed muses, brought a selling price of $8.1 million, landing solidly within its estimate of $6 million–$9 million. The sale marks the 1937 piece’s first time at auction after remaining in private hands for 80 years.
Another high mark was set for postwar heavyweight Joan Mitchell, whose diptych La Grande Vallée VII, completed in 1983, sold for $14.6 million, making it the second-highest price paid for a work by the artist. A Ruth Asawa woven sculpture from 1953 also set a new record for the artist, at $5.4 million.
This sale brought a new record for centenarian California painter Wayne Thiebaud. His large-scale 1962 painting Four Pinball Machines—sold by West-Coast investment executive Kenneth Siebel, who bought the work from real-estate tycoon Donald Bren in a 1982 deal after its sale at auction—met its low estimate, selling for $19.1 million. The piece more than doubled the previous Thiebaud record of $8.5 million, achieved with the sale of Encased Cakes (2011) at Sotheby’s in November 2019. The Thiebaud also drew active online bidding, with one participant going as high as $17 million.
In the Hong Kong leg, one of the first lots on offer was by late Canadian painter Matthew Wong, who saw record highs this week with paintings in each evening sale across the three auctions houses. Bidding online and over the phone drove up the hammer price for Homecoming, quickly moving it past the high estimate. The work eventually realized a selling price of 3 million Hong Kong dollars ($387,000). Elsewhere in the Christie’s sales, the same buyer purchased a painting by Takeo Yamaguchi that set a new benchmark for the artist, at 15.1 million Hong Kong dollars ($2 million), and a work by Nicolas Party.
A monumental red-orange Zao Wou-Ki from the master’s earlier period saw advance interest on the phone with bids starting at 60 million Hong Kong dollars ($7.74 million). It brought the first disappointment in the auction after a long pause, holding the lot at 80 million Hong Kong dollars ($10.3 million) before eventually being bought in.
The last lot of the Hong Kong leg was George Condo’s 2020 painting Force Field. Carrying a guarantee, after a protracting bidding period the work placed with a buyer on the phone represented by Marc Porter for $53.2 million. It more than doubled its low estimate of $18 million Hong Kong dollars. The work came to auction with only one previous owner who acquired the work from New York’s Skarstedt Gallery.
Kwok passed the gavel to her Paris colleague, Cécile Verdier, and the sale changed tones as bidding for Jean Dubuffet’s colorful Hourloupe work ricocheted between London and Paris salesrooms, easing tension from the early awkward stage of the novel sale structure. The Dubuffet sold for €6.8 million ($7.4 million), doubling its pre-sale low estimate of €3 million ($3.39 million). A 1950 neutral ground by French postwar artist Pierre Soulages came to the market after seven decades in private hands from an Australian collection. The work went for €3.2 million ($3.61 million), meeting its high estimate of €3 million ($3.39 million).
Modigliani’s 1909 portrait of his friend, sculptor Maurice Drouard, made its debut at auction, drawing fast bids across the global sale sites. The work placed with a buyer for €4.5 million ($5.1 million), selling at the middle of its estimate range of €3.5 million–€5.5 million ($4 million–$6.3 million). In London, Manolo Millares’s 1959 black, red, and white abstract painting Cuadro 54 realized GBP 1.1 million ($1.4 million), reaching at the high end of its estimate. The work hails from Barcelona Suñol Soler Collection and is the first time the work has come to market after being held privately since 1975. In New York, Georgia O’Keeffe’s From Pink Shell realized $5 million, more than doubling its low estimate of $2 million.
Belgian Surrealist René Magritte’s 1962 monochrome green canvas featuring a central tree motif, L’Arc de Triomphe, kicked up the sale’s momentum halfway through. The work drew bids from London and New York as soon as it opened with Marc Porter’s telephone bidder moving the hammer past the high estimate up to £10 million. After a bidding pause between New York and London, the work sold for £17.8 million ($22.5 million), against an estimate of £6.5 million–£9.5 million ($8.2 million to $12 million). Boasting an impressive provenance, the painting was originally in the collection of Magritte’s American lawyer and confidante, Harry Torczyner. The price comes under the surrealist’s standing record price of $26.8 million made in November 2018 at Sotheby’s for the sale of Le Principe Du Plaisir (1937).