Christies Contemporary Gets It Right
Christies Contemporary Gets It Right
Turning the tables on a sluggish market, Christie’s Post-war and Contemporary Evening Sale on Wednesday charged to an impressive $93,734,500 tally, reassuringly nestled between pre-sale expectations of $71.5 million and $104.5 million.
Forty-nine of the 54 lots sold, for a sizzling sale rate of 91 percent by lot and 94 percent by value.
The encouraging result compares with the $113.6 million achieved atChristie's evening sale last November, with a sale rate of 68percent by lot, and the monster $331.4 million tally and 95 percent soldrate realized in May 2008.
Of the 49 sold works, 30 brought in more than $1 million, and of those, nine went for more than $3 million.
Five artist records were set, including one for David Hockneys Beverly Hills Housewife (1966–67), which sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for $7,922,500 (est. $6–10 million). The sweeping diptych hailed from the estate of California collector and art patron Betty Freeman, who acquired the painting for $4,250 in 1967, when it was first shown in New York at the Landau-Alan Gallery.
The sale included 20 works from the Freeman collection, and apart from a single casualty, they excelled, accounting for $31.6 million of the overall total, compared with pre-sale expectations of $24–37 million.
Hockney’s ode to California dreaming hurdled the artist record set at Sotheby’s London in June 2006, when Splash (1966) made £2,929,000 ($5,389,000).
Other Freeman highlights included the sale’s cover lot, Roy Lichtensteins beach-scene composition Frolic (1977), which sold to dealer Larry Gagosian for $6,018,500 (est. $4–6 million). New York private dealer Nancy Whyte was one of the underbidders.
Freeman acquired the painting in 1981 from New York’s James Goodman Gallery for $125,000, Goodman himself said.
A jumbo-scaled and brilliantly executed Andy Warhol Portrait of Man Ray (1974), also from Freeman, went relatively cheaply for $2,098,500 (est. $2–4 million). Dealer Jose Mugrabi was the underbidder. It last sold at auction at Sotheby’s New York in May 1985 for $52,800.
Another Freeman Pop art achiever was Claes Oldenburgs old-fashioned Typewriter Eraser (1976) in painted aluminum, stainless steel, ferroconcrete, and bronze, which sold for a record $2,210,500 (est. $1.4–1.8 million) to Jonathan Binstock of Citi Private Bank Art Advisory Service.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to acquire an iconographic example of Oldenburg’s classic sculpture of the 1970s,” Binstock said after the surprisingly buoyant sale.
Sculpture excelled even beyond the frontier of Pop art and Freeman’s trove, as blue-chip champ Alexander Calders untitled wall relief in painted and unpainted wood and wire, circa 1943, sold to a telephone bidder for $2,826,500 (est. $1.2–1.8 million).
For the most part, whatever was fresh to the market, classic, and conservative sold like home safes, including Richard Diebenkorns emblematic and shimmering Ocean Park No. 117 from 1979, which sold to another anonymous telephone bidder for $6,578,500 (est. $4–6 million).
In that same rich vein, Willem de Koonings Woman (1953), in oil, charcoal, wax crayon, and graphite on paper laid down on canvas, consigned by the heirs of New York collector Evelyn Annenberg Hall, sold to the telephone for a rousing $3,666,500 (est. $1.4–1.8 million).
Elevating the sale another few notches were glimmers of action beyond the tried and true blue chippers, as the heavily invested-in and speculated-upon artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Peter Doig hit home runs.
Basquiat’s Mater (1982), a tribal tribute to his art-loving mother, sold to Todd Levin of Levin Art Group for $5,850,500 (est. $5–7 million), and Doig’s atmospheric Night Fishing (1993) sold to Victoria Gelfand of Gagosian Gallery for $4,674,500 (est. $3–4 million).
“It’s the signature Doig,” said Gelfand, moments after the sale, “and my client ended up getting it for a decent price.”
That might be considered an understatement, considering that Doig’s similarly themed White Canoe (1990–91) went to Kiev oligarch Viktor Pinchuk for a record £5,732,000 ($11,283,464) at Sotheby’s London in February 2007.
If there were doubts about Jeff Koons's market legs after Tuesday evening’s underwhelming performance at Sotheby’s, they were left in the dust thanks to the chugging power of Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Engine (1986), in stainless steel and bourbon, which attracted at least three bidders and sold to the telephone for $2,322,500 (est. $700,000–$1 milion).
Even the sometimes disparaged expressionist painters of the 1980s made waves, as Eric Fischls Dog Days (1983), an audaciously sex-themed and outsized diptych scaled at 84 by 168 inches, sold to the telephone for $1,874,500 (est. $800,000–$1.2 million).
The seller acquired it from the Mary Boone Gallery in November 1983 for $20,000, according to the gallery.
Part of the evening’s rousing success can be credited to auctioneer Christopher Burge, who navigated the sale like a seasoned skipper, injecting humor when due.
At one point during heated bidding for Piero Manzonis kaolin-on-canvas Achrome from 1958–59, a bidder tried to split the next bid to $50,000, instead of the appropriate $100,000. “In these tough times, I’ll take it,” quipped the auctioneer.
Burge got tough with powerhouse Larry Gagosian, though, who brazenly taunted him during the bidding on Richard Princes raggedy-looking 2007 bronze sculpture of a picnic table and basketball hoop, Untitled (Upstate).
“Are you going to sell it?” challenged Gagosian, as if Burge were taking imaginary bids off the chandelier, to which Burge shot back, “If you bid, you’ll find out.”
Gagosian complied, taking it for $1,082,500 (est. $1–1.5 million).
As the elated crowd exited the salesroom, one of the attendees speculated as to why the Christie’s sale was so much stronger than Sotheby’s. “They just got it right,” said New York/London/Zurich dealer Iwan Wirth, who scored the record Martin Kippenberger at Sotheby’s on Tuesday evening. “It was all fresh material, and I was really surprised. We’ve probably seen the worst of it, just like it is in the real world.”
Judd Tully is Editor at Large of Art+Auction.