In a packed salesroom in New York on Wednesday evening, Sotheby’s expertly delivered
a spot-on and smoothly choreographed contemporary art sale that tallied up $362.6 million. That figure, which includes buyer’s premiums, roared close to the high end of presale expectations, which were pegged at $278.4 million to $375.9 million. (Estimates do not reflect buyer’s premiums.)
The result easily hurtled past last November’s $310.2 million haul across 69 sold lots, a result led by Francis Bacon’s triptych Three Studies of George Dyer (1966), which made $38.6 million.
Only two of the 65 lots offered failed to sell tonight, for a petite buy-in rate by lot of
3 percent, and 59 of the 65 lots offered sold for more than a million dollars. Of those, seven exceeded $10 million, and two shot past $20 million. Four artist records were set, for Henry Taylor, Jacob Lawrence, Dana Schutz, and Jack Whitten.
Guarantee-wise, two lots carried standalone house guarantees, and 33 were backed by irrevocable bids placed by third parties.
All reported prices include the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium, calculated at
25 percent of the hammer up to and including $300,000, 20 percent of any amount in excess of that up to and including $4 million, and 12.9 percent for anything beyond that.
The evening started with a separate, single-owner selection of 11 works, “The History of Now—The Collection of David Teiger,” offered to benefit the Teiger Foundation for the Support of Contemporary Art.
In that trove, Dana Schutz’s 96-by-66-inch oil on canvas from 2003, Her Arms, depicting the artist/musician and Sonic Youth front woman Kim Gordon, sold for a record $795,000 (est. $150,000–$200,000), and John Currin’s quirky lovers set against a cloud-filled sky, The Neverending Story (2003), brought $2.06 million (est. $1.5 million–$2 million).
All the Teiger lots were backed by irrevocable bids, meaning they could sell on a single bid from the third party at a minimum price prearranged before the auction, even if no other takers stepped in. If it is a house guarantee, and bids fall below the secret reserve price, the work becomes the property of Sotheby’s to offload at a future time. The house can also choose to take a percentage loss on the guaranteed work to avoid becoming the owner of a spurned lot. That was not an issue tonight.
Other Teiger highlights ranged from Peter Doig’s panoramic House of Pictures
(2000/2002), scaled at 76¾ by 116¼ inches, which brought $9.11 million (est.
$8 million–$12 million), to a late and evocatively spare untitled abstraction by Willem de Kooning from 1987, which sold to another telephone bidder for $9.33 million (est.
$7 million–$10 million). Teiger acquired the de Kooning at Christie’s New York in November 2010 for $4.7 million.
Part of the beauty of Teiger’s collection (and eye) was how quickly he acquired works by burgeoning talents off gallery walls early in their careers, boldly operating ahead of market and critical acceptance. That method paid off. The Teiger group made $48.5 million against a presale estimate of $33.5 million to $47.6 million, giving the ongoing liquidation of the collection at various sales a running total of a bit over $100 million.
Moving to the various owners’ cavalcade, Ed Ruscha’s stenciled text painting That Was Then, This Is Now (1989), executed in acrylic on canvas, went to a telephone bidder for $5.77 million (est. $1.5 million–$2 million) after heavy and torrid bidding, and Barkley L. Hendricks’s life-size North Philly Niggah (William Corbett), 1975, featuring the dapper model in a fur-collar overcoat, realized $1.94 million (est. $1.2 million–$1.8 million).
With his work included in the “Soul of a Nation” touring exhibition, now at the Brooklyn Museum, and a starring role in Prospect 4 in New Orleans, which closed earlier this year, Hendricks has been receiving a great deal of posthumous attention for his distinctive figurative practice.
In a more expressionist vein, Henry Taylor’s multi-figured, street-side composition I’ll Put a Spell on You (2004), exhibited in his solo show at MoMA PS 1 in 2012, sold to a telephone bidder for $975,000 (est. $150,000–$250,000), a record for the artist. Private dealer Irena Hochman was the underbidder.
Another sensational L.A. artist, Mark Bradford, entered the fray with Disappear Like a Dope Fiend (2006) in his potent brew of mixed-media collage on canvas; it sold for
$3.86 million (est. $1.8–$2.5 million). It also carries museum cred, having been part of the mid-career Bradford retrospective that toured American museums from 2010 to 2012.
The price-point meter shot higher with Gerhard Richter’s wall-swallowing, color-drenched diptych Abstraktes Bild (1987), mightily scaled at 102⅜ by 157¾ inches and harbored in the same private collection since 1988. It made the top-lot price of $32 million (estimate on request in the region of $30 million). The diptych was backed by an irrevocable bid, and it appeared the underbidder was a representative of Hauser & Wirth.
The work is one of 18 large-scale abstractions Richter completed between 1986 and 1989; of those, 12 are in museums, and 6 are held privately.
Richter’s recent rocky road at auction, including a pricey buy-in last month at Christie’s London for a photo-realist-styled skull painting, is looking smoother after this rehabilitative result, which ranks as the sixth-highest price for the artist on the block.
On a very different stylistic note, a luscious Georgia O’Keeffe still life, Calla Lilies on Red (1928)—which would typically be offered in a separate American art sale, a domain largely dominated by American buyers rather than the global wealthy—sneaked into the contemporary corral. Deaccessioned by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Sante Fe, New Mexico, to benefit future acquisitions, it sold on the cheap, for a below-estimate price of $6.28 million (est. $8 million–$12 million) to New York dealer Michael Altman.
A second O’Keeffe from the museum, A Street (1926), affording a fractured view of anonymous New York buildings split in part by a dazzling blue sky, sold to Altman for $13.3 million (est. $12 million–$18 million).
“What a phenomenal opportunity for our great philanthropic client,” Altman said in a post-sale text message, of the cityscape. He added that the Calla Lily purchase was for his inventory, and characterized it as “an abstract masterpiece from O’Keeffe’s early period.”
A fierce bidding war erupted for another unexpected sight at an evening sale of contemporary art: Jacob Lawrence’s brilliantly composed 1947 work The Businessmen, executed in egg tempera on hard board and depicting a group of besuited men absorbed in their briefcases and papers. It fetched a record-shattering $6.17 million (est. $1.5 million–$2 million).
Chris Eykyn of Eykyn Maclean and New York adviser Todd Levin were among the posse of underbidders. “I was hoping to get the picture,” said New York dealer Jonathan Boos, who had his hand up early on, “but I was overwhelmed. It’s one of Lawrence’s great pictures and there are very few in private hands.”
On the Pop art front, Roy Lichtenstein’s exquisite two-part Ben-Day dot composition Like New (1962), its double-image poached from an advertisement for repairing screen doors, made a modest $5.94 million, after coming to market without any kind of guarantee (est. $6 million–$8 million). The seller, Jane Rosenblum, the widow of the late art historian Robert Rosenblum, bought the work in 1963 from Galerie Ileana Sonnabend in Paris. Try to beat that for a solid-gold provenance!
Another stellar entry, the catalogue’s cover lot, Jasper Johns’s Flag (1994), an acrylic and graphite on canvas representing a late iteration of the artist’s most famous body of work, sold to a telephone bidder on what appeared to be a single bid for $13.1 million (est.
$12 million–$18 million). Unlike a number of earlier, color-saturated examples of Johns’s American flag motif of red, white, and blue, this one is decidedly, richly darker in hue, cloaked in gray.
But back to brighter colors: David Hockney’s jazzy and wildly decorative house portrait Montcalm Interior with 2 Dogs (1988) went to another telephone bidder for
$12.7 million (est. $9 million–$12 million). The seller acquired the work from L.A. Louver Gallery back in 1997.
Other big-ticket entries included Jean-Michel Basquiat’s two-panel composition Untitled (Pollo Frito) from 1982, sumptuously covered with bits of text, which garnered what seemed to be a single, irrevocable bid, selling for $25.7 million (unpublished estimate in excess of $25 million). The painting was included in Annina Nosei’s breakout solo show for the artist in SoHo in April 1982, and it later appeared at the doomed (as in bankrupt) Vrej Baghoomian Gallery in November of 1989, the year after Basquiat died.
A lush and still-fresh-looking de Kooning, redolent with the artist’s masterful strokes, Amityville (1971), which stands in his standard jumbo size of 80 by 70 inches, went for $11.6 million (est. $10 million–$15 million). Another ’70s de Kooning, the smaller Untitled X (1977) brought $8.31 million (est. $7 million–$10 million). It last sold at Christie’s New York in November 1991 for a recession-priced $880,000.
The evening action resumes on Thursday at 5 p.m. with Phillips’s 20th-century and contemporary art sale, followed by Christie’s postwar and contemporary art sale at 7 p.m.