Ahead of its main New York sales in November, Sotheby’s is moving to restructure its modern and contemporary art evening sales once again. On Tuesday, the auction house announced that it will do away with the previous format of its marquee sales, and instead now divide its offerings of modern and contemporary art among three evening sales, with one of them devoted specifically to art made by living artists. The first iteration of the series will take place next month at the house’s New York headquarters.
The three sales will be titled “The Modern,” “The Contemporary,” and “The Now.” The first covers the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the second is devoted to the postwar era and the late 20th century, and the last spotlights art of the past couple decades. But the parameters are loose, given that the sales will be organized “on stylistic grounds rather than strictly by date,” a Sotheby’s spokesperson said.
The modern sale will take place on November 16, and the two contemporary art sales will be held back-to-back on November 18. Day sales associated with each category will take place from November 16 to 19 in New York. These sales will take place after the first auction of offerings from the $600 million Macklowe Collection in New York on November 15.
This is the second time Sotheby’s has reformatted its marquee auctions since the start of the pandemic. Initially, the house focused on blurring categories, auctioning Old Masters works alongside pieces by emerging artists. Now, the house appears to be taking a slightly new approach to the older format, which saw one sale for modern art and another for postwar and contemporary work. Citing a need to meet “the current demands of the market, Sotheby’s chairman Mari-Claudia Jiménez said the house had “created greater flexibility” for buyers in doing so.
The reformat also marks an attempt to capitalize on in-demand emerging artists whose prices are skyrocketing on the primary market. These works have been historically been offered as the first few lots of the evening sales in order to spur momentum among bidders. Now, the auction house is giving them more room to shine. “We are seeing the rapid emergence of a new generation of collectors who feel a real connection with the art of their own time,” said Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s chairman and worldwide head of sales for global fine art.
A $35 million Frida Kahlo self-portrait and a $15 million Alexander Calder hanging sculpture will be among the highlights to sell in the modern art evening sale. In the contemporary art portion, Phillip Guston’s painting Ominous Land (1972), featuring the artist’s controversial Klansman figure, will be among the highlights to hit the auction block, where it is expected to fetch $6 million to $8 million. And in the “Now” evening sale, Yoshitomo Nara’s large-scale painting Nice to See You Again (1996) will be offered alongside a Mark Bradford abstraction. The Nara is estimated to fetch $8 million–$12 million, putting the painting on track to become one of the artist’s most expensive works.