Less Adrenaline, More Deals at Christies Open House

For auction-goers who get off on the adrenaline surge of seeing lot prices soar past six figures, Christie's Open House might not be the most exciting sale of the season. But if affordable artworks are more your speed, and especially if you're just starting a collection, this annual postwar and contemporary auction offers an opportunity to snatch up works by both well-known names and emerging artists, with estimates as low as $1,000.

The Open House also offers a less intimidating atmosphere than the larger sales. Monday’s auction took place in the afternoon in a tiny salesroom, while a preview of Tuesday’s Interiors sale hustled and bustled in the hallway just outside. Collectors milled in and out during the more than three-hour sale of 248 lots, 218 of which sold, tallying $3,458,562 overall. The auction also drew a large share of online and telephone bidders.

The star lot was, predictably, Kara Walkers powerful Untitled (1993–1994), a mounted paper-cutout figure with beribboned braids protruding from its body, which went to an anonymous telephone bidder for $145,000, rocketing past its high estimate of $50,000. Bids might have been boosted by the fact that Walker has a much talked about exhibition, “My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love,” at the Whitney through February 3, but her works have been performing consistently well at auction. Her Untitled (Girl with Bucket) shattered its high estimate of £60,000 ($118,000) to bring in £150,000 at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in London in June.

Jules Olitskys Exact Origins (1966) also did well on Monday, going to an anonymous telephone bidder for $109,000, more than double its high estimate of $40,000. Other top earners included Louise Nevelsons Untitled (ca. 1982), a black wood wall relief that was estimated at $35,000 to $45,000 but brought in $87,400 from the European trade; one of Robert Rauschenbergs Untitled (1983) collages, which came in below its upper estimate of $80,000, at $67,000; and three works that sold for $58,600: Hans Hartungs acrylic on panel TI 980 E32 (1980) (est. $20,000 to $30,000), William H. Baileys oil on canvas Untitled (Still Life) (1981) (est. $15,000 to $20,000), and Charles Arnoldis Untitled (2000) diptych (est. $12,000 to $18,000).

There were plenty of steals, too, including one of our favorites, an iconic Tom Otterness sculpture, Humpty Dumpty (1990), the fourth in an edition of five, that went to a phone bidder at its low estimate of $15,000. And one buyer actually took home a work that didn’t even break the $1,000 mark— Calvin Browns Untitled (1986), a geometric acrylic on canvas. This bold magenta and yellow painting was estimated at $3,000 to $4,000, but went for pocket change at $938.

Click on the photo gallery above left to see the top lots.