NEW YORK—Sotheby’s jump-started the fall auction season on Nov. 2 with an evening sale of Impressionist and modern art that sparked competitive bidding from buyers around the world and set records for a number of blue-chip artists. The trend continued the following evening at Christie’s, where a substantial offering of works met with robust demand and also set several new auction records. In all, the two houses’ Impressionist and modern series, including day sales of lower-priced works, realized a total of $538.8 million, compared with the $593 million achieved last spring and the $609 million achieved last fall.
Christie’s took in a total of $271.1 million for the series (Nov. 2–4), making it the leader for the week, but Sotheby’s was close behind with a total of $263.6 million. Christie’s offered more lots, and achieved a higher sell-through rate, finding buyers for 313, or 81 percent, of the 386 lots it offered. Sotheby’s sold 212, or 74 percent, of the 288 lots it offered.
“Overall, all indications are that the market is both firm and broad, and that, particularly for anything that has the label ‘outstanding,’ there is enormous national and international interest,” Robert Mnuchin, a partner at New York’s L&M Arts, told ARTnewsletter.
The following week (Nov. 9–12), Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips de Pury & Company (which does not hold Impressionist auctions) held their fall sales of Postwar and contemporary art. The cumulative total for the three houses was $755 million, compared with $581 million in contemporary sales last spring and more than double the $308 million of last fall. As happened three years ago, during the height of the art market boom, overall sale volume for contemporary art well exceeded that of Impressionist and modern art, a sign that newer collectors are once again pouring money into blue-chip works by such name artists as Alexander Calder, Gerhard Richter, and especially Andy Warhol.
Phillips switched up the usual schedule by holding the first sale of the week, on Nov. 8, at its new space on West 57th Street in midtown Manhattan. The auction house had usually held its sales on Thursday, following Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
The series total of $143 million was Phillips’ highest yet for contemporary auctions, and several new records were set. An evening sale, “Carte Blanche,” organized by private dealer and adviser Philippe Ségalot, realized a total of $117 million and achieved a price of $63.4 million for Men in Her Life, 1962, a Warhol painting of Elizabeth Taylor. It was the second-highest auction price for the artist since Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), 1963, sold for $71.7 million in spring 2007 (ANL, 5/29/07). Ségalot’s sale and Phillips’s $20 million regular part-one sale brought the total for the evening to $137 million.
Sotheby’s contemporary-art total was $271.3 million, filling out its Impressionist and modern art sale volume to a total of $535 million for the two-week series. Christie’s contemporary total was $340.6 million for a total of $611.7 million in the past two weeks. The entire fall series scored $1.3 billion, compared with $1.2 billion achieved last spring. A full report on the contemporary-art auctions will be published in the next issue of ARTnewsletter.