Prestige sales in New York produce mixed results



Although generally considered safer (and less volatile) investments, the Modern Masters failed to generate the estimated results at Christie’s and Sotheby’s May sales in New York, generating a combined total of just $285.65m from their Impressionist & Modern Art sessions.

Modern art loses momentum
Christie’s were targeting $162m – $277m from their 4 May sale, but the total was well under the estimate low total at just $136.4m. Uptown at Sotheby’s the previous day, the equivalent sale produced a better total of $149.2m but the results were also disappointing considering the targeted price range of $158m – $231m.
Pablo PICASSO‘s Femmes lisant (deux personnages), the star lot of the sale fetched $19m versus an estimate of $25m – $35m. Even the extremely rare wood sculpture by Paul GAUGUIN received only a lukewarm response from investors, fetching $10m against a $10m – $15m estimate.
Christie’s also suffered weak enthusiasm for its star lots. In fact, Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger, version L fetched just $19m against an estimate of $20m – $30m. Despite the superb pedigree of Claude MONET’s Les peupliers – considering its creation date of 1891, an emblematic year for the Impressionists and the rarity of the theme on the Monet auction market – the work failed to spark passionate bidding, reaching no higher than its low estimate of $20m. It was nevertheless three times more than the price paid for the same work in 2000 at Christie’s New York ($6.4m).
Despite some major disappointments however, a number of lots kept up with the auctioneers’ expectations such as Alexej VON JAWLENSKYFrau mit Gruenem Faecher that fetched $10m at Sotheby’s (est. $8m – $12m). At Christie’s a superb Fauvist work by Maurice DE VLAMINCK, Paysage de Banlieue, sold within its estimated range for $20m setting a new record for the artist, $9m higher than his previous record (Les pêcheurs à Nanterre, €9.4m, Loudmer in Paris). Another work that actually exceeded the estimates was Henri MATISSE’s La Fenêtre ouverte fetching $14m (est. $8m – $12m).

Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art sale produced better results
With a sales total of $265.18m (excl. fees) from its Post-War & Contemporary Art sale a week later, Christie’s confirmed its strong position in the Contemporary art segment. Andy WARHOL’s Self-Portrait contributed a handsome $34.25m to this total, his fourth best-ever auction result.
Carrying a pre-sale tag of 30 to 40 million euros, his gigantic Self-Portrait in red and black fetched just $24.5m, i.e. $5.5m below its low estimate.
In fact, the best result of the sale came from the bright Mark ROTHKO painting, Untitled No. 17, which largely exceeded its high estimate of $8m due to its exceptional qualities (the work has only recently been attributed to the artist). Francis BACON’s tryptich, Studies for Self-Portrait, never-before sold at auction, fetched $22.5m. Among the new artists’ records scored at the Christie’s sale, there was $6m for a giant sculpture (7 metres tall) by Urs FISCHER, Untitled (Lamp/Bear), nearly seven times his previous record (Untitled (Candle), $900,000, Sotheby’s New York in November 2010).
$3.4m is now the top price ever paid for a photograph at auction, and it was Cindy SHERMAN’s Untitled (1981) that generated this sum against an estimate of $1.5m – $2m. That result is $1m better than her previous record signed in November 2010 at Phillips de Pury for Untitled #153. The American artist has now overtaken the UK duo GILBERT & GEORGE who held the world’s best auction price for a photo title since their To her Majesty, 1973 fetched $3.2m in June 2008 at Christie’s, London.

Uptown at Sotheby’s the overall result was not so good; in fact the total struggled to reach just $111.15m against a minimum total estimate of $121m.
Jeff KOONSPink Panther sold for $15m against an estimate of $20m – $30m and Andy Warhol’s Sixteens Jackies, that Sotheby’s also hoped would generate between $20m and $30m, went under the hammer for $18m. Numerous works sold beneath there pre-sale estimates, particularly the most important works in the sale. Willem DE KOONING’s Untitled VII fetched $3.75m vs. an estimate of $4m – $6m; Lucio FONTANA’s Concetto Spaziale went for $5.5m vs. an estimate of $6m – $8m.
On the other hand, Jean-Michel BASQUIAT’s Eroica I fetched $5.2m vs. a high estimate of $4.5m. The same work had sold for $580,000 in 2000 at Sotheby’s New York.

In 2010, the two auction rivals had generated a combined sum of $836m from their May sales in New York. This year, buyers shelled out a total of $662m at the NY May sales. However, the results were disappointing overall and a large number of the estimates were cut down to more modest sums – and it was a long way from the mega-results seen at the same sales in 2010.