NEW YORK — When a couple at yesterday’s Andy Warhol auction at Christie’s won the top bid for a silkscreen collage from the 1980s, the woman squealed to her husband, “Oh my god, we got it?!” He nodded, kissed her, and said, “Let’s go look at it!”
That kind of enthusiasm is rare in salesrooms these days. More often, the excitement amounts to an auction-house employee phoning in a foreign bid, or a deadpan dealer gambling on anything likely to turn a profit.
But this sale was unique, with an overwhelming 354 lots consigned by the Andy Warhol Foundation, which plans to use the proceeds to fund its grant-making programs. That meant that there was something for just about every taste and price point, ranging from just $2,375 to $1.3 million.
“It was the ultimate mashup of Warhol fans,” said advisor Warren Winegar. “There were some former groupies that wanted to try to capture an original piece of the action, and there were serious collectors, and a lot of other people who knew about the Warhol mystique and wanted to get something.”
Buyers phoned in from Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Indiana, and beyond, ultimately contributing to a $17-million total and 91 percent sell-through rate, which fell squarely within the $15-million to $22-million presale estimate.
“Today’s vigorous launch of the Warhol Foundation sales was met with enthusiasm by established and new collectors globally, including successful bidders from Mainland China, Russia, the European Union, the Middle East, and the Americas,” said Christie’s head of postwar and contemporary art, Amy Cappellazzo, in a statement after the sale, noting that “photographs and prints perform[ed] exceedingly well.”
It’s been said that Christie’s also succeeded in registering a number of new clients in the wake of the sale. “They were kind of surprised,” said Joel Wachs, president of the Warhol Foundation. “There were many, many new people buying and signing up to bid online.”
The top lot of the day was a silkscreened butterfly from Warhol’s “Endangered Species” series, going for $1.26 million, including the Christie’s commission. Warhol’s “Bighorn Ram” from the same series went for a healthy $842,500, while a red-streaked Jackie Kennedy print more than doubled its high estimate at $626,500.
But there were some surprise losses as well. One bidder sitting nearby drew a big exclamation point in his catalogue next to one of Warhol’s “Piss Paintings” after it failed to find a buyer at its $800,000 to $1.2-million estimate.
“If there was one disappointment it was that a few of the most expensive works didn’t sell,” said Wachs. “But we’re now in negotiations as of this morning for at least two of them. So hopefully we’ll sell them shortly.”
Yesterday’s auction was also just the first in a series of events Christie’s has planned over the next five years — and the results represent only a fraction of the value of the foundation’s collection, estimated in tax documents to be worth around $104 million. At the end of the month, Christie’s is conducting a private sale in Hong Kong, followed by one in France in January, and then a stream of online sales beginning in February.
Wachs said he hopes that this international approach will dispel fears that the foundation’s move will dilute the Warhol market, as collector Alberto Mugrabi previously predicted. Either way, it seems be good news for bargain hunters. The happy couple that bought the Warhol collage had good reason to smile — they got their picture for just $20,000, more than half off the estimated price.