NEW YORK—Midmarket auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury & Company, held around New York’s major Armory Show and Art Show fairs (March 2–6), underscored the strength of the contemporary-art market recovery.
Sotheby’s sale on March 9 realized $9.4 million for 333 lots offered, compared with the $5.8 million realized at the comparable sale last March (ANL, 3/23/10). By volume, 261, or 78 percent of the lots were sold and the auction realized 89 percent by value. Christie’s sale on March 10, titled First Open, brought $10.3 million for 312 lots offered, up from the $7.5 million realized last year for 168 works offered. First Open was 84 percent sold by lot and 90 percent sold by value. Phillips de Pury & Company held two evening contemporary sales, one on March 4, which realized $4.7 million for just 24 lots, and another on March 8, entitled Under the Influence, which took in $2.9 million for 280 lots on offer.
The upper end of Sotheby’s sale was dominated by demand from private Latin American collectors, according to the house, with half the top lots going to buyers from the region, including the highest earner, Andy Warhol’s Work Boots, 1985–86, a painting that was estimated at $400,000/600,000 and in which Sotheby’s had an economic interest. It sold for $758,500.
Latin American private buyers also acquired Glenn Ligon’s White #12, 1994, oil stick on canvas, for $374,500 (estimate: $180,000/220,000); Jim Dine’s heart painting Anemone, 2005, for $266,500 (estimate: $150,000/200,000); Willem de Kooning’s untitled abstract oil, 1977, for $218,500 (estimate: $100,000/150,000); and Piero Dorazio’s colorful abstract oil Come Mi Pare, 1968, for $170,500 (estimate: $70,000/90,000).
Noting that the sale total neared the auctioneer’s high estimate of $9.5 million, head of sale Erica Barrish said, “Buyers came from across the world with particularly strong participation from Latin America, North America and Europe.” Barrish said that work by Ligon is highly sought after, pointing to the artist’s midcareer retrospective, “America,” opening the next day at the Whitney Museum of American Art (through June 5).
Among the sale’s records were new auction highs for Jack Bush (1909–77) and Craig Kauffman (1932–2010). Bush’s acrylic on canvas, Blue Bar, 1970, sold for $200,500 on a $30,000/50,000 estimate to a Canadian collector, while Kauffman’s untitled lacquer on vacuum-formed Plexiglas, ca. 1967–68, sold for $146,500 (estimate: $40,000/60,000) to a U.S. buyer.
Other top-selling works included an oil stick on paper by Richard Serra, Federal Plaza 1, 1984, which sold for $128,500, above the $70,000/90,000 estimate, and Peter Halley’s Prisons in Context, 1981, which took $110,500 on an estimate of $90,000/120,000, selling to a U.K. dealer.
The highest-selling works at Christie’s First Open sale included more traditional blue-chip contemporary names, a shift from some of the cutting-edge artists whose works topped the sale during the recent contemporary-art market peak.
An oil on masonite, L’Erratique, 1961, by Jean Dubuffet, led the sale, taking in $698,500, well above the $300,000/400,000 estimate and selling to a private U.S. buyer. Christopher Wool’s untitled alkyd and enamel on aluminum, 1987, sold for $362,500, just clearing the high end of the $250,000/350,000 estimate, selling to a private buyer from South America. Wool’s untitled 2007 silk-screen ink on paper also appeared in the top lots, selling for $182,500 to a U.S. dealer.
Warhol works featured in the sale included a 1985–86 diptych, Heaven and Hell Are Just One Breath Away (Positive), which realized $242,500 on an estimate of $200,000/300,000, and Flowers, 1964, which took the same price, compared with a lower estimate of $180,000/250,000.
Paul McCarthy’s sculpture Steven, 2007, depicting a small boy with outstretched arms standing on a wooden crate, also sold for $242,500 (estimate: $200,000/300,000), while Ed Ruscha’s Two Books, 2001, an oil on canvas, sold for $218,500 on an estimate of $150,000/200,000, and Thomas Struth’s 1999 Cibachrome print mounted on Plexiglas El Capitan (Yosemite National Park), California, sold for $206,500 compared with an estimate of $100,000/150,000.
Sara Freidlander, head of First Open, said the sale “enticed buyers from across the globe, hailing significant prices for key works of art from both masters of the postwar period…as well as contemporary artists.”
Phillips sale on March 4 was led by Rudolf Stingel’s photorealist painting Untitled (After Sam), 2007, a self-portrait of the brooding artist reclining on a hotel bed, eyes averted. Estimated at $700,000/900,000, it sold for $902,500.
Warhol’s Detail of the Last Supper/Be a Somebody with a Body, 1985–86, sold for $602,500, falling within the $500,000/700,000 estimate. And Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (Pink Butterfly Green mg03), 2003, sold for $434,500 on an estimate of $300,000/400,000. Phillips head of sale, Zach Miner, said the results are “an indication of the market’s sophisticated and discerning tastes.”
A painting by Grotjahn also topped the Under the Influence sale, Untitled (Cream Butterfly), 2004, sold for $104,500 on an estimate of $40,000/60,000. The same price was given for Kehinde Wiley’s Fall, 2009, which was estimated at $50,000/70,000.
Other top lots included Barbara Kruger’s Ohne Titel—Lust, 2001, which sold for $92,500 on an estimate of $20,000/30,000 and Subodh Gupta’s sculptural installation composed of stainless steel containers Feast for Hundred and Eight Gods 1, 2005, which sold for $86,500 on an estimate of $60,000/80,000.