Latest New York summits



Traditionally a crucial month for big auction houses, May sees the art market’s major dealers and collectors converge on New York for the Frieze (5-8 May 2016), which acts as a prelude to the much anticipated prestige sales of Modern and Contemporary art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. In the past, these sales have generated most of the art market’s biggest annual surprises and although the totals are not so strong this year, they include a number of spectacular results. The first was hammered at Christie’s May 8 Bound to fail sale where Maurizio Cattelan’s provocative sculpture of Hitler on his knees (Him) gave the Italian artist a new auction record $17.1 million … almost $10 million above his previous record. The sale attracted bidders from 36 countries, an exceptional sold rate of 97% and a total turnover of $78 million. It also generated new records for for Paola Pivi, Neil Jenney, Olivier Mosset, Daniel Buren, Rebecca Horn and John Armleder. The other prestige sales took place two days later.

Basquiat flying high…

For its Post-War and Contemporary Art sale on 10 May, Christie’s has announced a sales total of $318.3 million (and an 87% sold rate) with another $83 million from its sale of works in the same category the following day. However, its big news is a new Jean-Michel Basquiat record for a museum-quality work from 1982 that fetched $57.2 million despite costing no more than $4.5 million in 2004 (Sotheby’s London, 23 June 2004)… It therefore took just 12 years to appreciate by $53 million which is actually more than India’s 2015 total Fine Art auction turnover of $48.9 million that gave the country twelfth place in the global art turnover ranking by country). This latest Basquiat record buries his previous auction summit by nearly 10 million (Dustheads [1982] fetched $48.8 million in 2013 at Christie’s New York) and reminds us not only that Jean-Michel BASQUIAT is the most ‘powerful’ artist in the Contemporary sector, but also that the high-end Western market is supported by a number of major Asian buyers: the new owner of Basquiat’s untitled work is the Japanese business man Yusaku Maezawa who apparently acquired a number of Contemporary masterpieces last week.
Basquiat was not the only artist to score a new record at the 10 May sale. Five other artists hit new highs: Agnes Martin, Mike Kelley, Richard Prince, Kerry James Marshall and Barry X Ball. Agnes MARTIN crossed the $10 million threshold for the first time (her Orange Grove fetched over $10.6 million versus a previous record of $6.5 million) while Richard PRINCE got close to it with Runaway Nurse ($9.6 million). As for the American artist Kerry James MARSHALL, he has participated in a number of major Contemporary art events over the last 20 years (Documenta in 1997 and 2007, and the Venice Biennale in 2003) and his prices are currently soaring. His canvas Plunge (1992) attracted vigorous bidding, fetching $2.1 million, double his previous auction record.

Sotheby’s Contemporary Art sale on May 11 generated $242.1 million compared with $472.4 million at the same sale last year. The sharp fall proves the market is no longer in a euphoric mindset but rather has settled into in a phase of maturity. Last year Sotheby’s star lots included Mark ROTHKO’s 1954 painting Untitled (Yellow and Blue) that sold for $46.5 million and Roy LICHTENSTEIN’s The Ring that fetched $41.7 million. This year, the star lots generated a few million less, but they clearly indicate the current preferences of the major collectors.

Francis Bacon. The star lot of the evening was a double self-portrait by Francis BACON (with each portrait measuring 14 by 12 inches [or 35.5 by 30.5 cm]) that reached a superb result of $35 million for such a relatively small work. Two studies for self-portrait had been part of the same collection since it was purchased from the Marlborough Gallery in 1970.

Nearly $52 million for Cy Twombly. With two major works by Cy TWOMBLY, Sotheby’s added $51.95 million to its sales total. The dearer of the two was his masterpiece Untitled (New York City) which generated $36.65 million, while his Untitled (Bacchus 1st Version V) fetched $15.3 million. Director John Waters contributed to the marketing of both works with a short film on Sotheby’s website.

Adrian GHENIE… x10. With a low estimate of $200,000 Adrian Ghenie’s selfportrait as Vincent Van Gogh was the most affordable work in Sotheby’s catalogue. However, the 2012 canvas by the young Romanian artist (born 1977) reached ten times its estimate, fetching no less than $2.59 million! This is Ghenie’s second best-ever auction result; his record was set on 10 February earlier this year with another homage to Van Gogh (The Sunflowers In 1937), which sold for $4.5 million at Sotheby’s in London.

ZHANG Xiaogang suffers depreciation of $4.9m: this was the first New York auction appearance of a significant work by this major figure of Contemporary Chinese art after several years of absence. But with a result of $4.9 million, his canvas Bloodline: Big Family No.1 has returned to 2007 price levels. On 3 October 2011, the same work fetched $8.4 million at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.

Once again the art market has proved that Contemporary artists can reach as high and sometimes even higher than the great signatures of Impressionist and Modern art. Christie’s prestige sale of Impressionist & Modern Art on 12 May 2016 generated $141.5 million with superb results for Georges BRAQUE’s Mandoline à la partition ($10.245 million, Braque’s second highest auction result) and Frida KAHLO’s small-format painting (30cm) Dos desnudos en el bosque (La tierra misma), which fetched $8 million, signing a new personal record for the Mexican artist (her previous record was $5.6 million for Roots 10 years ago at Sotheby’s New York). This is the price of rarity: only 19 paintings by the artist have been auctioned since 1989.