Christie’s and Sotheby’s anticipate price increases



For their Contemporary Art sales on 11 and 12 May 2010, Christie’s and Sotheby’s are betting on high prices for masterpieces signed Warhol, Klein and Rothko. But above all, the catalogues contain a number of major works that the crisis has withheld from the market. The hot names in Contemporary art like Jeff KOONS, Richard PRINCE and Maurizio CATTELAN are also back and in most cases they are carrying very ambitious price estimates. With morale inflated by recent records in the Old Masters segment (RAPHAEL) and the Modern segment (Alberto GIACOMETTI), the auction houses are anticipating that Contemporary prices will rise from exactly the point where they collapsed when the crisis began. And yet, just eight days before the sales, the Contemporary Art price index is still wallowing at its May 2009 level.

Among the 49 lots offered in Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art sale on 11 May, 29 could generate results above the million-dollar line. As has often been the case in recent years, the sale’s success is depending on Andy WARHOL, the highest priced artist in the world behind Pablo PICASSO, and Yves KLEIN, the world’s most sought-after French artist. Based on Christie’s upper estimates, the six works by Warhol offered on 11 May could generate 45 million dollars! The highest hammer price is expected for Silver Liz, a Liz Taylor transformed into an icon against a silver background (Warhol’s fetish colour) carrying a $10m to $15m price tag. A twin sister of this Liz fetched $4m at Phillips, De Pury & Luxembourg in November 2002. If it reaches its $10m to $15m price range, the Silver Liz will have accreted in value by roughly 150% in less than eight years.
The second major work by Andy Warhol is a mosaic of nine Pop faces of Holly Solomon, the inspired art dealer with a very Sixties haircut (1966) announced at $7m to $12m.
The third masterpiece with 8-figure potential is a superb anthropometry by Yves Klein in which the bodily impression produces a lyrical abstraction (Anthropométrie « Le Buffle » – ANT 93). This piece is estimated at $8m to $12m.

Michael Crichton Collection
However, the spectacular results will not stop there. Christie’s has obtained 31 lots from the Michael Crichton collection including numerous excellent pieces and, notably, two major works by Robert RAUSCHENBERG (the Trapeze, estimated at $5m – $7m, fetched $42,500 on 26 October 1972 at Sotheby’s, and Studio Painting, estimated $6m – $9m, sold for $350,000 on 10 November 1982 at Christie’s) and a Jasper JOHNS encaustic flag, a museum-quality piece that could generate one of the artist’s best ever auction results (Flag, $10m – $15m).

Record expected for a Warhol self-portrait
Opposite Christie’s Silver Liz, Sotheby’s is offering a monumental self-portrait by the artist (nearly 3 metres from corner to corner). The first time Sotheby’s sold this work in November 1986, it generated $26,000. If it sells within the estimated range of 10-15 million dollars, it could set a new record for a unique self-portrait by Andy Warhol (the current record is held by Self Portrait, Green Camouflage at $11m). Other Warhols in the Sotheby’s sale include Flowers earmarked at $5m – $7m, and Airmail Stamps which sold for $900,000 in 2005 and is now estimated at $2.8 – $3.5m!
Under the $1m bar since 2008, the artist Philip GUSTON is expected to return to 7-figures with his Jail that Sotheby’s is offering in a $2m – $3m price range. And there is considerable optimism attached to the return to auction of major works by Jeff Koons and Richard Prince. Indeed, Jeff Koons’ steel locomotive Jim Beam – J.B. Turner Engine is being offered in a higher bracket than when it last sold on 13 May 2009 at Christie’s. Last year, the piece fetched $2m, twice its upper estimate. This year, that result is the lower estimate ($2m – $3m) at Sotheby’s! Prices are also set considerably higher for works by Maurizio Cattelan. Sotheby’s will be offering a sculpture portraying the artist bursting through a hole in the floor. This mock break-in fetched $1.8m at Christie’s in 2004. It is being now offered by Sotheby’s for between 3 and 4 million dollars (12 May).

A major work by Marc Rothko
The auctioneers are exhibiting their confidence in a full-speed market recovery by returning “major” works to their sales. While Warhol’s self-portrait is clearly a major work: Mark ROTHKO’s vibrant orange painting is even more so. Sotheby’s is offering the piece at $18 to $25m. Since the autumn 2008 price meltdown when another major Rothko exceptionally good work entitled No.43 (Mauve) failed to sell against a lower estimate of $20m, there haven’t been any works of this stature offered in auctions.
On the basis of this year’s upper estimates posted by Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the crisis appears to have been nothing more than a brief storm and the merry-go-round of million-dollar results has re-commenced for works signed by established artists. On the other hand, the catalogues for these New York sales on 11 and 12 May contain no works by contemporary Chinese, Indian (apart from Anish KAPOOR) or Japanese artists.