With the pandemic upending most aspects of the art world this year, top auction houses adapted their marquee sales to a new virtual format, ushering in an era of live-streamed mega-auctions. In the process, records were notched for artists with rising markets.
At Sotheby’s, in the house’s debut live-streamed auction in June, a key work by Abstract Expressionist artist Helen Frankenthaler from the collection of dealer Ginny Williams sparked a bidding war, eventually selling for a record price of $7.9 million. Not too long after, Christie’s set a milestone for Ruth Asawa during its July “ONE” sale. That same month, during Sotheby’s “Rembrandt to Richter” sale, a newly restituted rare 15th-century cassone panel by Italian renaissance master Paolo Uccello sold for four times its low estimate, realizing £2.4 million ($3.1 million), surpassing Uccello’s previous record price of $252,900.
Elsewhere in the market, Swann’s African American art department set the year off with a new high, achieving its first white-glove sale with the art collection of the Johnson Publishing Company, the publisher of Ebony and Jet. The sale set 29 new artist records, including a new high for a suite of photographs by Carrie Mae Weems.
By the end of 2020, the December evening sales staged at the top auction houses set new highs for established and emerging Black artists such as Barkley Hendricks, Mickalene Thomas, and Amoako Boafo, among others. A survey of these records and more follows below.