AO auction preview: Major Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sales, New York, May 14-17. 2013.

May 13th, 2013


Francis Bacon, Study from Portrait of P.L. (1962), courtesy of Sotheby’s

After last week’s busy schedule of fairs (Frieze, Collective Design Fair, Pulse, Nada, Wishmeme, Cutlog, and many more) the contemporary art hub of New York City will serve as the stage for another set of high-profile art sales this week, as Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips host their Evening Post-war and Contemporary Art Sales. Sotheby’s will hold their sale of 64 lots on May 14th, Christie’s on the 15th with 72 lots and Phillips on the 16th with 38 lots, featuring the familiar auctions and price tags for by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter and Agnes Martin, alongside a number of newcomers and unique pieces that define this month’s evening auctions as a major event.


Gerhard Richter, Domplatz Mailand (1968), courtesy of Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s top lots include Francis Bacon’s Study from Portrait of P.L. (1962) from a prominent European collection, Gerhard Richter’s Domplatz Mailand (1968), and Barnett Newman‘s striking Onement VI, 1953 (from the collection of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen) all estimated at $30,000,000-40,000,000.  Richter’s landmark photorealist work will lead the auction, and could easily surpass the artist’s current auction record.


Cecily Brown, Merry Widow (1998), courtesy of Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s will also offer a selection of striking minimalist works this week, including Untitled (91-2 Bernstein) from Donald Judd’s stack series (estimated at $6,000,000-8,000,000) and Agnes Martin’s Untitled #0 for between $1,500,000-2,000,000.  Another notable piece is a dramatic Cecily Brown oil on canvas, Merry Widow, estimated at $700,000-1,000,000, as well as Nate Lowman’s Black Escalade (2005), estimated at $350,000-450,000.  Lowman also has another work from this series on sale at Phillips this week for a slightly higher estimate of $400,000-600,000, and will offer an interesting look at market demand between the clientele at the two auction houses.


Willem de Koonig, Woman (Blue Eyes) (1953), courtesy of Christie’s.

Christie’s top lots are all estimated to sell between $25,000,000-35,000,000, including Jean-Michel Basquiat’s seminal 1982 canvas Dustheads, as well Jackson Pollock’s Number 19.  A brooding Mark Rothko Untitled (Black on Maroon) (1958), and Clyfford Still’s PH-1, (1953) are also on sale, both estimated between $15,000,000-20,000,000.  Other notable lots include Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild, Dunkel (613-2) estimated at $14,000,000-18,000,000 and two portraits by Willem de Koonig in oil, enamel and charcoal on paper and canvas. Roy Lichtenstein’s Nude with Yellow Flower (1994), is also for sale, estimated at $12,000,000-16,000,000.  Alongside these works are a pair of Agnes Martin works: Untitled #33 and Untitled #18  estimated at $2,000,000-3,000,000 and $1,800,000-2,200,000, respectively. Other exceptional pieces are a Marlene Dumas oil on canvas, Reinhardts Daughter, and an Isamu Noguchi granite sculpture, Variation on a Millstone #5, estimated at $600,000-800,000.

Jean-Michel Basquait, Dustheads (1982), via Christie's
Jean-Michel Basquait, Dustheads (1982), courtesy of Christie’s

Despite the exceptionally strong offering across the board, the focus of the night will surely go to Basquiat’s Dustheads, which already boasts a committed bid of $25,000,000 and should easily surge past the artist’s current record of $26.4 Million to set a new record high.  The time is ripe for the late artist, following a year of intense bidding over his works and a landmark show at Gagosian Gallery that surely brought new focus to his powerful body of work.


Roy Lichtenstein, Nude with Yellow Flower (1994), courtesy of Christie’s.

Phillips highest estimated lot is also a Jean-Michel Basquiat: his Untitled (soap) (1983-1984) is estimated to sell between $5,000,000-7,000,000. Another top lot is Christopher Wool’s visceral And if (1992), estimated at $3,500,000-4,500,000, alongside Andy Warhol’s Four Marilyns for the same price. Other interesting lots include Wade Guyton’s dazzling stainless steel sculpture, U Sculpture (v. 5) (2007), estimated at $250,000-$350,000.  The New York-based artist was recently the subject of a mid-career solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which could signal a sudden increase in his prices at auction.  Foreign work is also featured strongly at Phillips, such as a cor-teen steel piece standing over eight feet high sculpture by German artist Thomas Schutte Großer Geist Nr. 9, 1998 (lot 8) estimated at $3,000,000-5,000,000.


Dana Schutz, Dead Zebra (2003), courtesy of Phillips.

With the excitement surrounding two new shows of work by Jeff Koons opening this week, sellers appear to be capitalizing on the artist’s current ubiquity. Sotheby’s is offering five of the artist’s pieces in their evening sale, including his early work, New Hoover Celebrity IV, New Hoover Convertible, New Shelton 5 Gallon Wet/Dry, New Shelton 10 Gallon Wet/Dry Doubledecker (1981-1986), estimated at $10,000,000-15,000,000.  Christie’s will also attempt to cash in on Koons with Plate Set (1995-1998) an oil on canvas estimated at $4,000,000-6,000,000. At a more moderate price point, Phillips will offer Jim Beam-Observation Car (1986), an artist proof from a series of 3, and estimated at 1,200,000-1,800,00.  Also for sale at the auction house is Giraffe (green) (1999) at $500,000-700-000. All houses will also feature work by Koons in their day sales.


Jeff Koons, New Hoover Celebrity IV, New Hoover Convertible, New Shelton 5 Gallon Wet/Dry, New Shelton 10 Gallon Wet/Dry Doubledecker (1981-86), courtesy of Sotheby’s.

With the sheer number of quality pieces and definitive works by contemporary masters, analysts are forecasting this set of auctions as a milestone event for the year’s art calendar, and expect several major artist records to fall during the course of the auction proceedings.  The auction comes days after Sotheby’s posted an underwhelming first quarter profits report, illustrating the effects of thinning commission margins on the market, and may help pad losses experienced early this year with several major sales.  The auctions may also cast an interesting forecast on the future of the two largest auction houses, especially following Christie’s announced expansion into mainland China; a move that may soon leave Sotheby’s in the dust.

Isamu Noguchi, Variation on a Millstone #5 (1967), courtesy of Christie’s.

As illustrated, stakes will be high, and will make for intriguing bidding in the auction halls each night, underscoring this week’s proceedings as can’t miss events.  All auctions will stream online from the auction houses’ websites.

Wade Guyton, U Sculpture v. 5 (2007), courtesy of Phillips.


Thomas Schutte, Großer Geist Nr. 9(1998) courtesy of Phillips.

—Anna Mikaela Ekstrand

Read more
Sotheby’s Takes Hit from Falling Auctions [Forbes]
The Bar Keeps Rising for Basquiat [Wall Street Journal]
Christie’s is Poised to Auction Art in China [New York Times]