THE BLOG

Quality Material Attracts Bidders for Record Breaking Auctions

11/18/2013 07:07 pm ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

New York’s November auction season has proven to be a rollercoaster of emotion, with both Sotheby’s and Christie’s breaking records, seeing all time highs, as well as disappointing lows across the Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary sales. The sale of important works from Impressionist and Modern Art have taken a surprisingly exciting departure from last year’s results, thanks to Sotheby’s. The disappointment of last year’s sales and uninteresting works offered up was completely wiped out as Sotheby’s blasted away the tainted memory, bringing in $290 million in its Impressionist and Modern Evening sale, far surpassing Christie’s. The competitor brought in only $144 million, with Alberto Giacometti’s oil painting, Diego en chemise ecossaise being the star of the auction at a record breaking $32 million, the highest price ever paid for the artist in this medium at auction. This robust success of the Impressionist and Modern sales coupled with exciting works by Bacon, Warhol, Richter and Wool being offered in both houses’ Contemporary sales have seemed to prove a strong buying market, as prices exceed their 2007-2008 counterparts.

Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern sale, 2013.

The close of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern sale this year was met with resounding applause, as both employees and bidders reflected on the exciting $290 million night – an incredible jump compared to the $40 million in sales just one year ago. The general feeling was a validation for historical material, with quality works of high cultural significance from artists like Gustave Courbet, Francis Picabia, Man Ray and Jean Arp selling at record prices for each artist. Futurist Giacomo Balla’s Automobile in Corsa made waves with a $11.47 million hammer price, a surprising high, bought by art dealer Nancy Whyte.

Futur! Masterworks of the Avant-Garde, Giacomo Balla, Automobile in corsa, 1913. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Alberto Giacometti was a star at Sotheby’s as well as Christie’s, with a bronze bust in the artist’s signature style of his brother Diego from 1955 and owned by London dealer Desmond Corcoran for the past 30 years going for $50 million to Acquavella Galleries Inc. Picasso was also the focus of several bidders, with two works up for sale. The late Mousquetaire A La Pipe from 1969 finally went for $30.9 million to dealer David Nahmad, while a beautiful portrait of Picasso’s blonde and bright lover, Marie-Therese Walter titled Tete De Femme from 1935, blasted through its $30 million estimate, achieving $39.9 million.

 

Pablo Picasso, Tête de femme, 1935. © 2013 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Pablo Picasso, Mousquetaire à la Pipe, 1969. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Despite the success, 12 of the 64 lots up for auction did not sell, but that did not deter buyers from being excited. Bidders and auctioneers left Sotheby’s last week feeling invigorated, not only with a confidence that there is still money in the art market, but that art historical works are achieving the prices that experts think that should – and that more than one bidder wants them.

Christie’s November 5th sale did not experience the same adrenalin that bidders at Sotheby’s felt, although interest was strong. The auction house estimated $188.8 to $277.7 million in sales for the evening, but instead fell short at just $144.3 million overall. Eleven of the forty-six lots did not reach their minimum estimates, but works from the collection of Holocaust survivor Jan Krugier did make a splash, bringing in $113.7 million overall. The middle market, with works under $5 million, showed the most strength at the sale.

The highlight of the evening was again Alberto Giacometti and his brother Diego, this time not with his iconic bronze sculptures, but instead an oil of his brother. Previously, a painting by Giacometti capped off at $14 million, but this year’s sale saw $32 million, which exceeded the low estimate of $30 million. Vincent Van Gogh’s small drawing La maison de Vincent a Arles, along with a letter to his brother also intrigued the bidding crowd. The duo was finally sold to a private buyer in Asia after an active interest on the phones, nabbing it at $5.4 million, far above its high estimate of $3.5 million.

 

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) La maison de Vincent à Arles (La maison jaune) (recto); page of a letter from Vincent to his brother Theo (verso), 1888. Courtesy of Christie's.

But Picasso was not as hot at Christie’s as at Sotheby’s. The artist’s Le Peintre Et Son Modele Dans Un Paysage from 1963 failed to sell, with experts blaming the high estimate of $25 - $35 million for a less popular work. Nor did Amedeo Modigliani’s Monsieur Baranowski sell, again cited for the same reason. The painting, from 1918, was projected to fetch a high price in its perfect condition, but experts believe it may have failed as it portrays not one of the artist’s iconic long necked females, but instead less popularly, a man.

The Contemporary sale at Sotheby’s has been stirring up controversy all summer when Dia announced the sale of works by John Chamberlain, Alfred Jensen, Barnett Newman and Cy Twombly from their collection. Estimated at $20 million in total, the sale of 27 works was naturally met with criticism as is any deaccessioning by a reputable institution, and Dia’s founders Heiner and Farija de Menil Friedrich are taking action accordingly. The couple filed suit in state court on November 7 to stop Dia from selling the works, claiming the sale goes against Dia’s intent by removing them from public access. The foundation says it will spend the incoming moneys toward acquiring more current works.

 

John Chamberlain, Candy Andy, 1963. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Andy Warhol, 1928 - 1987, Liz #1 (Early Colored Liz), 1963. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

An exciting offering from the collection of Steven A. Cohen, as he raises funds to pay off a $1.2 billion settlement for insider trading, brought coveted works by Warhol, Richter and Brice Marden to market. Cohen’s Liz #1 by Andy Warhol, an iconic image of Elizabeth Taylor, was a projected highlight of the sale, as well as Warhol’s 5 Deaths on Turquoise – both with a provenance from the collection of Ileana Sonnabend herself. Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) was also offered from a different seller and has 22 pages of the catalog dedicated to the piece.

Andy Warhol, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), 1963. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969. Courtesy of Christie's.

Christie’s nearly reached their high estimate and a record for highest auction total in art market history, pulling in $691,583,000 (which was estimated at $500 - $700 million. Leading the sale was Francis Bacon’s storied triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which pushed through its estimate of $85 million and became the most valuable work of art ever sold at auction at a whopping $142.4 million. The three panels portray distorted portraits of Bacon’s love/hate relationship with his friend and competitor, and were separated until a collector reunited the triptych in 1989. Jeff Koon’s Balloon Dog (Orange) sold at $54.4 million, a new record for a work sold at auction by a living artist. Many of the works sold close to their high estimates, Warhol’s Coca-Cola (3) hand painted in cotton sold for $57,285,000, an orange and yellow Rothko abstract, went for $46,085,000 and a drip painting from Jackson Pollock painted in 1949 sold just short of the high estimate at $32,645,000. Christopher Wool’s current solo show at the Guggenheim has no doubt influenced the pricing for the piece Apocalypse Now, which Christie’s estimated at $15 - $20 million. Although the estimate was double Wool’s current record, the piece still went even higher, to $26,485,000.

Christopher Wool, Apocalypse Now, 1988. Courtesy of Christie's.

Andy Warhol, Coca-Cola [3], 1962. Courtesy of Christie's.

The November auctions have proven that the art market is strong, and that the money is out there to invest in important, and expensive, pictures.