AO Auction Preview – New York: Impressionist/Modern and Post-War/Contemporary Evening Sales, May 13th -16th, 2019

May 12th, 2019

Robert Rauschenberg, Buffalo II (1964), via Christie's
Robert Rauschenberg, Buffalo II (1964), via Christie’s

The show previews, VIP openings and special presentations of the 58th Venice Biennale are now in the bag, and the art world has returned to business as usual this week, returning to New York for a string of auction sales that will offer a grounding take on the market, and a look at how the following weeks may have affected both single artists and the overall health of art world economics at the top of the market.

Amedeo Modigliani, Tete (1911-1912), via Christie's
Amedeo Modigliani, Tete (1911-1912), via Christie’s

The sales begin on Monday evening at Christie’s with the auction house’s Impressionist and Modern offerings, a 64-lot outing that is certainly not short on highlights.  Chief among them is a striking Modigliani] bust, Tete, which is anticipated to sell for between $30,000,000 and $40,000,000, while a powerful Van Gogh landscape will look to reach a similar auction price, with an undisclosed estimate that hints at the demand for the piece.  Also of note is an early PicassoLa Lettre, which carries an estimate of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000.

Vincent Van Gogh, Arbres dans le jardin de l'asile (1889), via Christie's
Vincent Van Gogh, Arbres dans le jardin de l’asile (1889), via Christie’s

Claude Monet, Meules (1891), via Sotheby's
Claude Monet, Meules (1891), via Sotheby’s

The following evening, Sotheby’s will take its turn in testing the health and robustness of the current auction market, kicking off a 56-lot sale of Impressionist and Modern works.  It’s an equally well-appointed sale, with a series of familiar series taking the lead on the pricing.  Monet’s haystack series once again finds itself up for sale, with an 1891 Meules painting carrying an undisclosed estimate that could see it pushing $20,000,000 or more on the block.  Also of note is Pablo Picasso’s Femme au chien, a 1962 work featuring the artist’s wife Jacqueline and his Afghan hound, which carries a pre-sale estimate of $25,000,000 to $35,000,000.  Also carrying the same estimate is William Bouguereau’s La Jeunesse de Bacchus which would break the artist’s auction record handily if met.

Pablo Picasso, Femme au chien (1962), via Sotheby's
Pablo Picasso, Femme au chien (1962), via Sotheby’s

William Bouguereau, La Jeunesse de Bacchus (1884), via Sotheby's
William Bouguereau, La Jeunesse de Bacchus (1884), via Sotheby’s

Andy Warhol, Double Elvis [Ferus Type] (1963), via Christie's
Andy Warhol, Double Elvis [Ferus Type] (1963), via Christie’s

The following evening will see another string of records looking to fall, as Christie’s launches its 20th Century and Contemporary Evening Sales.  Most likely to reset a record is Robert Rauschenberg’s Buffalo II, a striking silkscreen and paint work that carries a pre-sale estimate of $50,000,000 to $70,000,000, a price that, if met, would shatter the artist’s auction record several times over.  Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis (Ferrus Type) is also offered for the same $50,000,000 to $70,000,000 estimate, a price that could hint at a reset for Warhol’s record as well if conditions are right. One of Jeff Koons’s Rabbit sculptures also sits at the top of the sale, carrying that same $50,000,000 to $70,000,000 estimate.  Provided the auction house can land the buyers for each of these works, it mat well prove to be a landmark evening for Christie’s.

Jeff Koons, Rabbit (1992), via Christie's
Jeff Koons, Rabbit (1992), via Christie’s

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Self Portrait (1983), via Phillips
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Self Portrait (1983), via Phillips

The week closes with a double-header on Thursday evening, with both Phillips and Sotheby’s taking a crack at the Contemporary market.  Phillips has made several key staff acquisitions in recent weeks, and has clearly been working to place itself in contention for more top works and commissions during the major auction weeks.  This week, the house is offering a Jean-Michel BasquiatSelf-Portrait, priced at $9,000,000 to $12,000,000, as well as Mark Bradford’s iconic Helter Skelter II, which carries an estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000.  A lush de Kooning is also on offer for the same price.

Mark Bradford, Helter Skelter II (2007), via Phillips
Mark Bradford, Helter Skelter II (2007), via Phillips

Christopher Wool, Untitled (1990), via Sotheby's
Christopher Wool, Untitled (1990), via Sotheby’s

Sales conclude only a few hours later at Sotheby’s, where a 63-lot offering will close out the week.  Several staggering Francis Bacon’s can be had at the auction house this evening, including one of this iconic “screaming popes,” 1952’s Study for a Head, which carries a $20,000,000 to $30,000,000 estimate, while another work by the artist, Study for Portrait, is anticipated to reach a final price of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000.  Also of note is a rich, deep red Mark Rothko, a masterful example of the artist’s work and carrying a $35,000,000 to $50,000,000 estimate.

The sales begin Monday, with Art Observed covering live on Instagram and Twitter.

— D. Creahan

Mark Rothko, Untitled (1960), via Sotheby's
Mark Rothko, Untitled (1960), via Sotheby’s

Read more:
Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale [Christie's]
Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale [Sotheby's]
Christie’s 20th Century and Contemporary Evening Sale [Christie's]
Phillips 20th Century and Contemporary Evening Sale [Phillips]
Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale [Sotheby's]