With two nights of auctions now concluded, a choppy look at the contemporary art market has emerged, as Sotheby’s, Phillips and Christie’s strung together a series of occasionally surprising, mixed sales over the course of last night and this evening. The auctions, which mark the last major sales for the U.S. outposts of the international houses before summer recess, saw a number of impressive auction records, as well as a series of high profile works that failed to find a buyer, a note that left many puzzling over the immediate future of the Contemporary field.
Mark Rothko, Untitled (1969), Price:$18,856,500, via Sotheby’s
The sales began at Sotheby’s last evening, where a pair of sales saw mixed results. It was led by a white-glove sale of masterworks from the collection of Morton and Barbara Mandel, 26 lots from the family of the pioneering philanthropist and entrepreneur. The 26-lot offering was led by a striking Mark Rothko that nearly doubled estimate, ultimately finishing at $18,856,500, as well as a Joan Miró canvas that sold just below estimate at $9,260,000. All told, the sale achieved a final of $107,802,350, an opening to the night that only set the stage for a steady sale the following evening. With a series of works pulled before the sale and only two works failing to find an auction, bringing a final tally of $284,542,500. An early highlight came at lot 5, when Kerry James Marshall’s Past Times smashed past estimates, bringing a new auction record for the artist at $21,114,500. Another major record came at lot 28, when David Hockney’s Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica also topped the artist’s auction record, breaking through the $20 million low estimate quickly to reset his high mark at $28,453,000. A Jackson Pollock at lot 14 was also a major highlight, bringing a final price of $34,098,000.
The following evening saw a second pair of auctions closing out the week’s outing, beginning with an early outing at Phillips that saw a total of$131,564,750 achieved over the course of an unpredictable and often unsteady 34 lots. Despite a well-appointed auction, a set of high-profile passes cast a pall over the evening’s offerings. Works by both Sigmar Polke (Stadtbild II (City Painting II)) and Gerhard Richter (Abstraktes Bild (811-2)) failed to sell, each failing to capitalize on marquee price tags of $12,000,000 – $18,000,000. A Robert Motherwell managed to reach the low estimate after a few bids, to bring a final of $12,690,000, while an Andy Warhol Last Supper notched a final price of $8,752,500, at estimate. All told, the auction’s less steady outing seems to have emphasized the more notable weaknesses in the current market, with collectors even hesitant to place high bids on even remotely unpredictable blue-chip artists.
The sales closed out with another unsteady outing at Christie’s, where a series of unsteady sales and unpredictable figures ultimately brought the auction house to a $397,159,500 final sum with seven works going unsold. The sale continued by the same gradual, occasionally unsteady bidding of the sales prior, leading the auction house through its 65-lot offering with only a handful of stumbles. A new auction record was set for Richard Diebenkorn, whose Ocean Park #126 topped estimates to bring a final price of $23,937,500, while Joan Mitchell also reset her auction figure, rounding out a strong outing with a new mark of $16,625,000. Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait also made good on its high expectations, and closing to a final of $49,812,500.
— D. Creahan
Raising The Bar: Masterworks from the Collection of Morton and Barbara Mandel [Sotheby's]
Sotheby’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale [Sotheby's]
Phillips 20th Century and Contemporary Evening Sale [Phillips]
Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale [Christie's]