NEW YORK—The market for contemporary art continued to reflect the vibrant global demand seen in recent seasons, at Christie’s and Sotheby’s latest midmarket sales. On the other hand, the results of Christie’s midseason sale of Impressionist and modern art, on Sept. 20, were roughly even with those seen last fall.
Christie’s biannual First Open auction on Sept. 21 realized $9.9 million. This was up from the $7.5 million total last year (ANL, 10/5/10) and more than double the $4.4 million achieved in 2009 when the contemporary art market pulled back sharply.
Sotheby’s contemporary art sale on Sept. 22—which included nearly 450 lots—realized $9.2 million, compared with $7 million last fall. (Last fall, Sotheby’s also held a separate one-time sale of contemporary art from the collection of failed investment firm Lehman Brothers, including works from the former Neuberger Berman collection, which added an additional $12.3 million to its total.)
Christie’s First Open sale was considerably larger than last year’s, offering buyers 332 lots (there were 246 lots last year). Of this, 245, or 74 percent, of those lots found buyers. By value the sale realized 83 percent. Most of the top prices were paid for works by established blue chip masters, albeit at lower levels than at the major evening New York auctions.
The highest price was $794,500, paid by a European dealer, for Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild, 1997, and well exceeding the $350,000/450,000 estimate.
Private U.S. collectors were listed as buyers for the next three highest lots, including the $542,500 price, against an estimate of $400,000/600,000 for Frank Stella’s Khurasan Gate III, 1968; $422,500, compared with an estimate of $200,000/300,000, for Felix Gonzales-Torres’s untitled work consisting of adjoined circular brass rings; and $338,500, compared with an estimate of $150,000/250,000 for Bernar Venet’s large steel arc, 209.5 Arc x 14, executed in 2004.
Sara Friedlander, head of the First Open sale said the auction “kicked off the fall season with extraordinarily rich bidding from across the globe. Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States, 30 countries in total, bid and bought throughout from across the sale.” Friedlander said online bidding was active and pointed to the global demand for contemporary art.
Other top lots included John Baldessari’s Fugitive Essays (With Zebra), 1980, prints in frames, in three parts,which sold for $326,500 on an estimate of $200,000/300,000, and a work by Lee Ufan, currently the subject of a major exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum, New York. Lee’s oil and mineral pigment on canvas, With Winds, 1987, sold for $266,500, against an estimate of $150,000/200,000, to a private Asian buyer.
A Middle Eastern collector bought George Condo’s abstract painting, Dispersed Figures, 1998, for $230,500 against an estimate of $100,000/150,000, while Jim Dine’s bronze Venus, 1984, was acquired for $218,500, several times the estimate of $50,000/70,000. Homage to the Square: Ancient Glow, oil on aluminum, 1956, by Josef Albers, sold for $170,500, within its $120,000/180,000 estimate, to an Asian collector while Tom Wesselmann’s Study for Bedroom Blond, 1984, doubled the $40,000/60,000 estimate to sell for $158,500 to a European dealer.
Christie’s Impressionist and modern art sale on the previous day achieved a total of $2.4 million, up a notch from the $2.1 million result last fall, and for a slightly smaller offering of work (181 lots this year compared with 192 lots last year). Of these, 156 works, or 86 percent, were sold and by value, the auction realized 93 percent.
The highest price was $116,500 for Jean-Pierre Cassigneul’s portrait of a woman from behind gazing out at boats on an ocean, De dos, 1967, which soared past its relatively modest $18,000/25,000 estimate.
Against the same estimate, Salvador Dali’s collage and mixed media, The Eye of Time, 1974, achieved a price of $110,500. Christie’s sale director, Jessica Fertig, called the results “exceptional,” and further noted solid demand for artists including Tamara De Lempicka, Georges Braque and Bernard Buffet.
Most of the other top lots achieved prices more in line with presale expectations, such as Raoul Dufy’s gouache and watercolor, Le Concours hippique à Deauville, 1928-29, which realized $74,500 on an estimate of $40,000/60,000, and Israeli artist Reuven Rubin’s oil on canvas, Olive picking in the Galilee, ca. 1960, that sold for $62,500 on an estimate of $50,000/70,000. Also by Rubin was Autumn Landscape, Peekskill, New York, ca. 1928, that sold for $60,000 on a $30,000/40,000 estimate. However, this was the second time in roughly three years that the work had appeared at a New York auction and the price showed little change from the $61,000 achieved at Christie’s February 2008 sale, where it bore an identical estimate.
Works by Buffet included an oil on masonite, Bouquet, 1994, that sold for $62,500 (estimate: $30,000/40,000), and Papillon, which sold for $60,000, compared with an estimate of $30,000/50,000.
A Henry Moore bronze, Torso Column, conceived in 1982, sold for $56,250, clearing the $20,000/30,000 estimate.
Among the top lots at Sotheby’s was a Roy Lichtenstein work on masonite, Prop for a Film, 1969, which sold for $422,500 on a $400,000/600,000 estimate, and an aluminum and wire hanging sculpture by Alexander Calder, Model for Spiral at UNESCO, 1956, that sold for $386,500 on a $300,000/500,000 estimate.
An acrylic on canvas by Helen Frankenthaler, August Deep, 1978, sold for $362,500 on an estimate of $350,000/450,000 and Cindy Sherman’s untitled color photo, 1989, depicting the artist as a founding father, sold for $290,500 compared with an estimate of $250,000/350,000. Peter Saul’s Double De Kooning Duck, 1979, soared past its $40,000/60,000 estimate to sell for $272,500.
Of the 449 works offered, 294, or 66 percent were sold. By value the sale achieved 74 percent.