AO November Auction Roundup 2 of 5 (AO On-Site): Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale, New York, Tuesday, November 11th: Sotheby’s crushed by guarantees, Eli Broad: “It’s a half-price sale”

November 16th, 2008

John Currin's Nice 'n easy, 1999, an Oil On Canvas, Sold for $5,458,500, (Estimate:$3,500,000-$4,500,000)

Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale, New York, Tuesday, November 11th
Total Lots Offered: 63
Total Lots Sold: 43 (68.2%)
Total Sales Value: $125.1 million
Total Sales Pre-Auction Estimate: $202.4 million

On the heels of its Impressionist and Modern Art sale that brought in $223 million, well below its low estimate of $339 million, with only 45 of 70 lots sold as previously covered by Art Observed here, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York, held on Tuesday, November 11th, brought in $125 million against a $202 million estimate. The sale was 68.2% sold by lot, with 43 of 63 works finding buyers, marking the lowest selling rate for a multiple-owner evening sale of contemporary art held at Sotheby’s since November 1994. A third of the lots failed to sell, and most of the works that did sell went for less than their presale low estimate. The top lot of the sale was Yves Klein’s Archisponge (RE 11), seen below, which brought $21,362,500. Artist records were set tonight for Philip Guston Beggar’s Joys, which achieved $10,162,500; John Currin, Nice ‘N Easy (see above), which realized $5,458,500 (see above) and Richard Serra, 12-4-8, which fetched $1,650,000.

A Dreary Night for Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s [NYTimes]
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Sale defies worst fears
Sotheby’s New York Evening Sale of Contemporary Art Brings $125,131,500
$125 million at Sotheby’s Contemporary [ArtNet]
The art market: Contemporary art gets hammered [FinancialTimes]
Bare Market [ArtForum]
Eli Broad Goes Shopping as Sotheby’s Art Auction Falls Short [Bloomberg]
Currin Nudes Set $5.46 Million Record at Spotty Sotheby’s Sale [Bloomberg]

The majority of the buyers for this auction were American. In attendance were: the designer Valentino (who bought two Warhol paintings), Steve Martin, and art collector and publisher of Art In America and Interview magazine
Peter Brant. In the bidding was mega-dealer Larry Gagosian, who bought Roy Lichtenstein’s Study for New York State Mural (Town and Country), 1968, for $3,890,500 against an estimate of $4 million-$6 million, Richard Serra’s lead work, Folded/Unfolded, 1969, for $722,500 against an estimate of $600,000-$800,000, and Serra’s steel, 1983, 12-4-8, for $1,650,500 against an estimate of $2 million-$3 million, which set a new auction record for the artist.

Also in attendance was billionaire Eli Broad, who did quite a bit of bidding, purchasing a Donald Judd sculpture for $1.1 million, a Robert Rauschenberg painting for $2.6 million, Ed Ruscha’s Desire for $2.4 million (with premium) a 1988 Jeff Koons gilded mirror sculpture for $2.2 million (with premium). Eli Broad had this to say to Bloomberg, “It’s a half-price sale. Things are a little more reasonable.” He further quoted to the New York Times, “I don’t think we’ve reached the bottom yet, we may be close.”

This auction was categorized in part by the damage Sotheby’s took by its guarantees. Sotheby’s, a public company, in its third quarter filing reported reported a third-quarter loss of $46.2m, twice the size of its second quarter loss with losses of $42 million in guarantees for sales between October and November. During that announcement, Bill Ruprecht, Chief Executive of Sotheby’s, stated, “We are closing the door on guarantees. The market’s changed, the world’s changed.” Sotheby’s actually wrote down $17 million in “probable losses” before Tuesday’s evening sale, however, this turned to be even less than the actual damage done during the evening sale. The sale totaled $125.1m, which was well below pre-sale estimates of $202.4 to $280.4 million. Of the 63 lots, a full 26 were guaranteed with pre-sale estimates of $75.2m-$117.4 million, with Sotheby’s having ownership interest in one of the works.

Sotheby's Contemporary Auction and Warhol's Dollar Sign for bidding. Photo by

Cy Twombly's Untitled (A Painting in Two Parts) (Bassano in Teverina) for bid. Photo by

Roy Lichtenstein's Study for New York State Mural. Photo by

Sotheby’s November 11th, 2008 Contemporary Art Auction. Photo by

“Archisponge (Re11)” (1960) by Yves Klein, Sotheby’s, via Artnet

The top lot was French painter Yves Klein’s Archisponge (RE11), from 1960, arguably the most significant work in the artist’s Relief Sponge series. It is a 6 1/2-foot-tall, deep blue painting with 13 sponges and a plethora of pebbles affixed to it. It was sold to a telephone bidder for $19 million ($21,362,500, with premium) against an estimate of $25 million. This sale was just below the record set by the sale of Monochrome, MG 9, circa 1962, from the collection of Helga and Walther Lauffs for $23,561,000 last May at Sotheby’s.

“Beggar’s joys” (1954-1955) by Philip Guston, New York, Sotheby’s via ArtNet

Another notable sale was Philip Guston’s abstract expressionistic painting, Beggar’s Joys (1954-55) which sold for $9 million ($10,162,500 with fees) against an estimate of $15 million, setting a record for the artist at auction. The work was sold to San Francisco art advisor Mary Zlot. The work however reportedly had a guarantee of $18 million, set in the summer. Sarah Thornton, author of Seven Days In The Art World, reporting for Art Forum noted that the guarantee was “—a careless sum given that the previous auction record for a Guston was only $7.3 million and Beggar’s Joys was rare but not a full-fledged signature work.”

Roy Lichtenstein - Interior with Red Wall - lot 47 $7,026,500, est. $8 to 12 million via ArtNet

Roy Lichtenstein’s 10 foot tall Interior with Red Wall (1991), as seen above, sold to a telephone bidder for $6.2 million ($7,026,500 with fees) against a pre-sale estimate of $8 million-$10 million. This work was also guaranteed and during the bidding, the auctioneer Tobias Meyer declared “I shall sell it” to rally the crowd to break past the guarantee.

John Currin's Nice 'N Easy. Photo by

A crowd pleaser of the night, also notable as a record breaker, was John Currin’s Nice ‘N Easy (1999), seen above, a manneristic painting of two nude women. This work was first shown at Regen Projects in Los Angeles in 1999, then at the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh that same year. The work sold to phone bidder Felicitas Rutt (Peter Brant’s daughter in-law) for $4.8 million ($5,458,500 with fees) which was above the pre-sale high estimate of $4.5 million, setting a new auction record for the artist, which was previously $847,500, set in 2004.

Roy Lichtenstein - Half face with collar - 1963 - unsold, estimate: $15,000,000 - $20,000,000 via ArtNet

One of the biggest disappointments of the evening was the lack of sale of the cover lot, seen above, Roy Lichtenstein’s Half Face with Collar, 1963, which was estimated at $15-$20 million. This work was guaranteed and thus a costly setback for the house.

Damien Hirst - Ethionamide - 2007 - unsold - Estimate $1,000,000 - $1,500,000 via ArtNet

Damien Hirst had two works for sale at this auction, which was the subject of some press coverage due the recent monumental success of his direct sale auction by Sotheby’s London in September as covered by Art Observed here. Ethionamide, pictured above, a typical painting from his dot series, was unsold against its estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million. However, Midas of Phrygia, pictured below, a round gold work from Hirt’s butterflies series sold for $700,000, or $1,082,500 with premium, though it was below its estimate of $1.2 to $1.5 million.

Damien Hirst - Midas of Phrygia - 2007 - sold for $1,082,500, estimate of $1,200,000-1,500,000 via ArtNet

Following the auction, Marc Glimcher of PaceWildenstein quoted to Bloomberg, “It wasn’t so bad, that’s the overwhelming feeling.” Auctioneer Tobias Meyer said in closing, “I want to thank the American collecting community for being smart about price.”

The following is brief summary of Sotheby’s day sale that followed a day later:

SOTHEBY’S CONTEMPORARY ART DAY SALE, New York, Wednesday, November 12th

Total Lots Offered: 418
Total Lots Sold: 223
Total Sales Value: $35.8 million

“Abstraktes Bild, 630-1″ (1987) by Gerhard Richter sold for $1,986,500 against an estimate of $1,800,000 – $2,500,000 via ArtNet

“Diamond dust shoes” (1980) by Andy Warhol, sold for $1,258,500 against and estimate of $1,500,000 – $2,000,000 via ArtNet

“Yip yip” (1994) by Ed Ruscha, sold for $1,070,500 against an estimate of $1,500,000 – $2,000,000 via ArtNet

“Joy” (1984) by Jean-Michel Basquiat, sold for $806,500 against an estimate of $1,500,000-$2,000,000 via ArtNet