Results: Sotheby's NY Contemporary Art Sale

After strong performances at two Christie's sale, on Wednesday evening it was Sotheby's turn with its Contemporary art evening sale. The sale totaled $295 million including buyers premiums, against a pre-sale total estimate range of $254/313.7 million. The sale offered 54 lots with 44 selling for a strong 81.5% sold by lot and a very strong 90.7% sold by value.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the sale
After two weeks of rollercoaster auctions in New York, Sotheby’s knew the stakes were high as it headed into Wednesday’s sale of contemporary art. But in part by asking its sellers to lower their undisclosed, minimum asking prices, called reserves, the house managed to offer up works at prices that enticed bidders and delivered a successful sale.

The sale was led by a $70.5 million Cy Twombly squiggly blackboard painting and hedge-fund manager Steven Cohen’s $47.5 million Andy Warhol portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong.

The air still proved Mount Everest-thin for a few of the priciest pieces like Twombly’s 1968 “Untitled (New York City,)” which sold for more than its $60 million estimate after a single bid. And it only took two bidders to run up the price for Mr. Cohen’s 1972 rainbow-hue silkscreen “Mao,” which carried a $40 million estimate.

But enough collectors showed up in the moment to help Sotheby’s $294.9 million total exceed its $254 million presale estimate, a result that drew applause from the house’s relieved staff a week after it garnered lackluster bidding for its initial sale of A. Alfred Taubman’s estate.

The house went into overdrive in the hours before the sale, in several cases asking sellers to dramatically lower their secret, must-get reserve prices—or give them up altogether—so that auctioneer Oliver Barker could leverage the works’ firesale price levels at the outset to tease out extra bids.

The strategy worked: A woman with jangly jewelry seated midway back in Sotheby’s packed York Avenue salesroom raised her hand and snapped to win Lucio Fontana’s red-slashed “Spatial Concept Expectations” for $14.2 million, or $16.1 million with Sotheby’s fees. The Fontana was estimated to sell for at least $15 million. (Sale prices, unlike estimates, include commission.)

“Number 17,” a 1949 Jackson Pollock abstract also sold for $20.2 million, or $22.9 million with fees. It was estimated to sell for at least $20 million.

In a few cases, Sotheby’s smaller-is-better effort extended to the works themselves: The house kicked off its event by offering up a 12-inch-wide, untitled red abstract by Frank Stella that looked identical to a much-larger version from the same series, “Delaware Crossing,” that sold last week at the house for $13.7 million. Bidders glommed onto the miniature model, with art adviser Elizabeth Szancer winning it for $1.2 million, well over its $700,000 high estimate. (Both Stellas likely got a profile boost thanks to an ongoing retrospective of the artist’s work at the Whitney Museum of American Art.)

The effort wasn’t failproof, though. Christie’s managed to get a record-breaking $10.7 million for a camper-size Louise Bourgeois bronze sculpture of a “Spider” from 1996 on Tuesday; Sotheby’s wasn’t able to lure anyone to bid on Bourgeois’s earlier, tabletop-size model “Spider” from 1994 and the work went unsold. It was estimated to sell for at least $4 million.

Elsewhere in the sale, Francis Bacon’s 1962 “Portrait” sold for $13.7 million, or $15.7 million with fees, over its $12 million low estimate. The estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat also saw feverish bidding for his untitled, graffiti-style work from 1987 featuring a salmon-colored dog floating with a parachute and the outline of a man in sunglasses playing a harmonica. A phone bidder won it for $7.2 million, or $8.3 million with fees. It was only estimated to sell for up to $2.5 million.

Overall, 44 of the sale’s 54 offerings found buyers, helping the house achieve a robust 90.7% of the sale’s total presale value. Mike Kelley’s “Memory Ware Flat #29” achieved a record-high price for the artist when it sold for $3 million, over its $2 million high estimate.

Christie’s rounds out the fall auctions Thursday with a sale of Impressionist and modern art.
Source: The Wall Street Journal 

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