NEW YORK—Sotheby’s mid-season sale of contemporary art on Feb. 26 pulled in a strong $10.7 million, comfortably above the high estimate of $9.7 million. Of 378 lots offered, 306, or 81 percent, were sold. By value, the auction realized 88 percent.
The top lot was Andy Warhol’s Somebody Wants to Buy Your Apartment Building, in synthetic polymer paint and silk screen on canvas, circa 1985-86, which fetched $964,000, just above the $950,000 high estimate, from a U.S. dealer. The work is from a series of pictures called the “Black & White” paintings, largely based on advertisement scraps, including classified ads and flyer illustrations, which Warhol created in the mid-1980s.
Campbell’s Onion Soup Box, 1986, another silk screen by Warhol, was also among the top lots, selling to a U.S. dealer for $132,000 (estimate: $80,000/120,000).
Jennifer Roth, Sotheby’s director of the fine arts department, reports that “works from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s were particularly buoyant.” Roth further points to the strength of contemporary sales held in London last month; Sotheby’s evening sale on Feb. 7 realized one of the highest totals to date for a contemporary art sale in Europe, grossing £45.8 million ($90 million). Peter Doig’s White Canoe, 1990-91, took a record £5.7 million ($11.3 million), making Doig the most expensive living European artist, surpassing Lucian Freud and Gerhard Richter (ANL, 2/20/07).
Roth says the recent New York sale “shows continued strength in the contemporary market, both abroad and in the U.S.” Sotheby’s reports that more than 60 percent of the lots sold above their high estimates.
The house set a new auction record for John Wesley, when Armenian Question,1967, an oil on canvas, sold for nearly six times the expected price (estimate: $30,000/50,000). A new auction record was set as well for Romare Bearden when Manhattan Suite, a collage and mixed-media on board, brought $240,000 (estimate: $30,000/40,000). Privately, works by Bearden have fetched far more, with prices often sailing into the high six figures, several experts say.
However, New York dealer Michael Rosenfeld believes “the gap between the auction market and the private market has been closing as more people are learning about Bearden and collecting his art.” Rosenfeld, who was the underbidder on this particular work, calls it “an exceptional collage because of the complexity of the material, the urban subject and the bold palette.”
Also setting an artist’s record was the $132,000 given for Elizabeth Murray’s Long Arm, 1982, a canvas in seven parts (estimate: $60,000/80,000).
Two works by Josef Albers sold well, including: Study for Homage to the Square, 1953, slated for inclusion in the artist’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné of paintings, which took $180,000 (estimate: $150,000/200,000); and Study for Homage to the Square, 1961 (also slated for inclusion in the catalogue raisonné), which brought $156,000 (estimate: $150,000/200,000).
An oil on canvas by Alexander Calder, Untitled (Composition), 1947, was the second- highest lot of the sale, taking $336,000 (estimate: $150,000/200,000). The work had been acquired by a private collector from Philadelphia in 1968 at Parke-Bernet auctioneers, New York (Sotheby’s acquired Parke-Bernet in 1964), and was exhibited at the Philadephia Art Museum in 1970.
A work by Harry Bertoia achieved a strong price when an untitled beryllium copper-and- bronze sculpture—from the Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation—which had been acquired directly from the artist, took $144,000 (estimate: $60,000/80,000).
Sean Scully’s 1973 acrylic on canvas Distillation of Squares, owned by the same collector since its direct acquisition from the artist, earned $132,000 (estimate: $20,000/30,000).
Israeli Art Draws Global Interest
The contemporary sale was followed on Feb. 27 by Sotheby’s auction of Israeli and International Art, which realized $4.8 million for 186 lots offered. Of these, 130, or 70 percent, were sold. By value, the auction was 78 percent sold.
“As the market for the younger artists grows significantly, strength persists for such modern Israeli masters as Reuven Rubin,” said Sigal Mordechai and Michelle Pollak, co-managing directors of Sotheby’s Israel.
Rubin (1893-1974) figured prominently among the top lots, accounting for three of the highest prices. Landscape in the Galilee, circa 1925, fell for $324,000, against an estimate of $150,000/200,000; and Jeune femme en robe rose, 1923 (estimate: $150,000/200,000), also took $324,000. The artist’s Figures on Path brought a mid- estimate $144,000 (estimate: $120,000/180,000) from a private American collector.
Records were set for several artists, including: Adi Nes, whose Untitled (Last Supper), a 1999 color photograph, realized $264,000 (estimate: $60,000/80,000); Yehezkel Streichmann, whose untitled 1963 abstract oil sold for $204,000 (estimate: $90,000/120,000); and Yaacov Agam, whose High Blue Lake View, a mixed-media work, 1977, fetched $156,000 (estimate: $70,000/90,000). Mordechai and Pollak noted growth “in the global market for Israeli art as well as new, enthusiastic collectors from Israel, the U.S. and Europe.”