Following the $177.8 million sale of the publishing magnate S.I. Newhouses’s collection on Friday, Christie’s staged its first evening auction dedicated solely to contemporary art during a marquee week in New York on Monday night, bringing in $98.9 million with buyer’s fees.
Twenty-seven lots were offered, including works by newcomers such as Louis Fratino and pieces by artists were more established followings such as Barbara Kruger. Twenty-five of those works sold, with one by Jeff Koons withdrawn by the sale’s end.
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Just two lots, by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Yayoi Kusama, were backed with third-party guarantees. The total hammer price for the entire grouping (before fees were added) came to $75 million, which was within the pre-sale estimate of $68 million to $99 million.
Christie’s U.K.-based auctioneer Georgina Hilton returned to the podium on Monday to lead the event, which included the auction debut of the 42-year-old U.S.-based painter Danielle Mckinney and new records for Peter Saul and Diane Arbus. With a smaller grouping of lots than in last year’s equivalent edition, Christie’s faced a cooling but still present demand for emerging artists, whose works have been the focal point of the evening sale’s opening slots in the past.
The first two lots surpassed their low estimates. As usual, those lots—figurative nudes by Robin F. Williams and Vojtech Kovarik, in this case—were put upfront to create bidding momentum. Both works more than quadrupled their low estimates, selling for $428,400 and $378,000 with fees, respectively.
But the hour-long sale finished without the room buzzing, as it has in recent editions of the sales. In interviews ahead of the evening sales last week, advisers based between New York and London told ARTnews that the market was poised for a correction as commerce has slowed in the British capital and Hong Kong.
Some said that the pandemic-era focus on organizing sales around rough time periods now feels less relevant. “We’re seeing the collapsing and expanding of categories around the 20th and 21st century art,” New York–based art adviser Erica Samuels told ARTnews during the sale. “The recalibration is happening in real-time.”
In the first portion of the night, the work that fetched the highest price was a 1983 painting by Basquiat titled El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile). The triptych work, depicting floating skulls and figures set against scrawled phrases referencing ancient mythological texts, came from the collection of fashion designer Valentino Garavani. It was offered in the sale with an estimate upon request around $45 million, which New York adviser David Shaprio described as “conservative” for the auction house.
Three bidders incrementally rose the stakes for the work. Eventually, it hammered at $58 million, going to a bidder on the phone with Christie’s New York specialist Vanessa Fusco for a final price of $67 million with fees. The result was the fourth-highest price paid for a work by the artist.
Mid- and late-career female artists were given a spotlight in this sale. Simon Leigh’s Stick (2019), another edition of which appeared in that year’s Whitney Biennial, hammered at around its low estimate of $2 million, going for a total of $2.7 million with fees. It went to a Hong Kong bidder on the phone with Jackie Ho, a specialist with Christie’s Asia office, and the result showed that the market remains stable for art by Leigh, who represented the United States at the Venice Biennale, where she also won the Golden Lion for her participation in the main show. Leigh’s work can currently be seen at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, where she is the subject of a traveling survey.
Cecily Brown, who is having a mid-career survey at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was represented in the sale by a large abstraction. The work sold for $6.7 million with fees, landing within the painting’s $5 million to $7 million estimate and going to a bidder on the phone in New York.
Works by Kusama and Miriam Cahn sold at prices around $5 million and $170,000, respectively, and were among the few lots that saw bidding attention coming from Asia. The former is the subject of a major commercial collaboration with Louis Vuitton, and the latter appeared in the Venice Biennale last summer.
Etel Adnan’s California (2002), acquired directly from the late Lebanese American artist by an Italian collector, sold for $352,800, more than five times its $60,000 estimate. A set of black-and-white Diane Arbus photographs from 1970 broke an auction record. The portfolio of 10 images, which Artnet reported was sold by Gagosian following a survey of her work at David Zwirner this past October, sold for $1 million with fees. The work hammered at $800,000, below the low estimate of $900,000. Arbus’s previous auction record for a set of photographs was $792,500, set in 2018.
The auction’s big star was arguably Danielle Mckinney, who recently had a solo show at New York’s Marianne Boesky Gallery. Her 2020 painting We Need to Talk—a view of a despondent young woman laying across a bed—shot far past its initial estimate. The painting, which originally was estimated to sell for $20,000, went for 10 times that price with fees. Its final price, to be paid by a phone bidder, was $201,600.
Elsewhere, two works by Louis Fratino, an artist whose explicitly queer subject matter has previously gained him attention on the block, outpaced estimates. Before coming up for sale tonight, his 2019 painting Euchre, in which a nude young man is seated on the floor around a deck of cards, featured in a solo exhibition at New York’s Thierry Goldberg Gallery. The work sold for $277,200 with fees, more than three times the $80,000 estimate.
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