Christie’s Super-charged Night

Thu 18 May, 2017

Studded with top class and fresh to market works, Christie’s pulled off a stunning evening sale of Post-War and Contemporary art, tallying $449,929,500 for the 68 lots that sold.

Despite a savage day on Wall Street, only three of the 71 lots offered failed to sell for a stellar and almost unheard of buy-in rate by lot of four percent.

The tally shot to the high end of pre-sale expectations pegged at $339-462 million.

It blasted past last May’s $318,388,000 for the 52 lots that sold yet lagged far behind the May 2015 result of $658,532,000.

Fifty-five of the 68 works that sold made over a million dollars and of those, five sold in excess of $20 million.

Four artist records were set.

All prices reported include the hammer price plus the stepped buyer’s premium calculated at 25 percent up to and including $150,000, 20 percent of that part of the hammer price up to and including $3 million and 12 percent for anything above that.

Estimates do not include the buyer’s premium.

The total hammer price before fees was $391,280,000, a convincing market testament to an unassailable salesroom triumph.

Even so, the evening was heavily backed by third party guarantees (38) and one house guarantee.

The marathon began with Louise Lawler’s striking, 30 by 40 inch Cibachrome photograph, “La Lecture, 1924, Femme au Livre 1924, Positioned together, Tous les Deux, ensemble, New York from 1985,” showing a pair of Fernand Leger paintings in an otherwise unidentified living room that made $175,000 (est. $70-90,000).

The Pictures Generation artist is currently the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art and the price bears in part the fruits of that recognition.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s jazz infused and text driven acrylic and oil stick on canvas, “Fats II” from 1987, sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for $4,727,500 (est. $4-6 million).

A chilling photograph reproduced in the auction catalogue of the artist standing in front of the painting in his studio and pointing a toy gun to his head was taken less than a year before his death from a drug overdose.

A second Basquiat, “Untitled” and also from 1987  but executed in wax crayon, color pencil, graphite and ink on paper covers every inch of the composition with a crazy, encyclopedia like display of the artist’s fascination with history, Greek legend and graffiti culture. It realized $2,407,500 (est. $1.2-1.8 million).

Another Basquiat work on paper, the 60 by 40 inch ”Untitled” from 1982 sold to mega-collector Dimitri Mavrommatis for $8,647,500 (est. $7-9 million).

“I was ready to go higher,” shouted Mavrommatis as he exited the salesroom, adding parenthetically and with equal glee that he was the seller of the cover lot Picasso at Christie’s on Monday evening, “Femme assise robe bleue” (1939) that made $45 million.

A large-scale Joe Bradley abstraction, “Flattop” from 2011, executed in dirt smeared oil on canvas and once featured in Vito Schnabel’s exhibition, “White Collar Crimes” at the Acquavella Galleries in 2013 made $1,207,500 (est. $1-1.5 million).

In a decidedly more ethereal vein, Cy Twombly’s exquisite and monumental composition, “Leda and the Swan” from 1962, beautifully executed in oil, lead pencil and wax crayon on canvas, appears as if fresh from the artist’s studio, sold to dealer Larry Gagosian for the top lot price of $52,887,500 (est. $35-55 million).

“That was a pretty good sale,” said Gagosian as he exited the Rockefeller Center salesroom, “but it was a rough day for the world and we’ve got bigger problems than buy-ins.”

Prime property from the estate of storied and vanguard New York collectors Emily and Jerry Spiegel took up almost a quarter of the evening sale with 25 lots offered and that delivered $116 million compared to pre-sale expectations in excess of $80 million.

All of the Spiegel property was backed by individual third party guarantees, erasing much of the potential drama for such fresh and long cloistered works to appear at auction.

The rich parade began with a bang as Man Ray’s stunning “Portrait of a Tearful Woman” from 1936, a 9 by 6 ½ inch hand-colored silver gelatin print that sold to New York advisor Gabriel Catone of Ruth Catone for $2,167,500 (est. $400-600,000).

The adventuresome couple bought it early in their collecting life pursuit at a Sotheby’s New York auction in May 1982 for $3,960.

Looking back now, so many of the works seemed eerily prescient, as evidenced by the Spiegel’s Francis Picabia, “Adam et Eve” from circa 1941-42 and that recently appeared in the artist’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.  It realized $3,367,500 (est. $1.5-2 million).

New York dealer Marc Payot of Hauser & Wirth was the underbidder.

Rich in top-class works made in New York from the 1980’s, Eric Fischl’s youthful sex themed epic, “The Visit II” from 1981 sold for $967,500 (est. $600-800,000).  Julian Schnabel’s massive, oil on velvet painting, “Hamid in Alcheringa” from 1983 went for $391,500 (est. $200-300,000) and David Salle’s combine like diptych measuring 93 by 120 inches, “Footmen” from 1986 in oil and acrylic with wood bowl on canvas, brought a record $583,500 (est. $250-350,000).

New York/London dealer Per Skarstedt was the underbidder on both the Fischl and the Salle.

“The 80’s are definitely coming back,” said New York dealer Marc Glimcher of Pace Gallery, “that’s the undertone tonight.”

Glimcher bought Robert Ryman’s pristine and Minimal “Agency” in sized linen canvas from 1988 from the Spiegel collection for $3,607,500 (est. $4-6 million). “I’m so happy,” enthused Glimcher, “I got the deal of the night.”

Beyond the Neo-Expressionist plane, the couple’s pink hued Andy Warhol “Last Supper” from 1986, executed in synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas and scaled at 40 by 40 inches sold to a telephone bidder for an estimate popping $18,727,500 (est. $6-8 million) and Philips Guston’s magisterial and late “Painter at Night” from 1979 and trophy like at 68 by 80 inches sold to Hauser & Wirth’s Marc Payot for $12,567,500 (est. $8-12 million).

Jose Mugrabi underbid the Warhol Last Supper.

German bred artists were also deeply represented, including the Sigmar Polke cover lot, “Frau mit Butterbrot,” a Pop Art icon from 1964, composed in a splendidly uniform array of Ben Day dots and measuring 63 by 55 inches that sold to a telephone bidder for $17,047500 (unpublished estimate in the region of $20 million).

Fellow East German painter and provocateur, Gerhard Richter’s blurred oil on canvas countryside landscape, “Schober” (Shed) from 1984 made $6,967,500 (est. $5.5-7.5 million) and Joseph Beuy’s blackboard composition, “Chikago” from 1974 executed in chalk on blackboard sold to Zurich dealer Doris Ammann for $1,207,500 (est. $800,000-1.2 million).

Paris/Salzburg/London dealer Thaddaeus Ropac was the underbidder on the Beuys.

Both the Polke and the Richter were acquired from the Marian Goodman Gallery in 1985.

Other Spiegel highlights, and let’s face it, the entire brood rocks, included Robert Gober’s sculpted sink, “Untitled” from 1985 in plaster, wood, steel, wire lath and semi-gloss enamel paint sold to dealer Jeffrey Deitch for a record $5,287500 (est. $3.5-5.5 million) and Jeff Koons’ early and instantly seminal “New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton wet/Drys 5 gallons Doubledecker” from 1981-86 and comprised, if you haven’t guessed, of four vacuum cleaners encased in fluorescent lit acrylic vitrines. It sold for $7,863,500 (est. $7-9 million).

Deitch sat next to storied Miami art collector Norman Braman and bought the Gober on his behalf.

Another great 1980’s work from the collection, Christopher Wool’s 96 by 60 inch text painting, “Untitled” from 1988 and replete with six identical rows of the repeated word “Please” in heavy black capital lettering, sold to a telephone bidder for $17,159,500 (est. $15-20 million).

Pictures Generation starlet Cindy Sherman was also in the brilliant mix with “Untitled Film Still #21,” an 8 by 10 inch gelatin silver print from 1978 featuring the artist as a young career girl set against a backdrop of Wall Street skyscrapers, sold to New York private dealer Philippe Segalot for $871,500 (est. $500-700,000).

The couple acquired the work in 1989 from the Janet Borden Gallery in SoHo.

“It’s tough,” said Segalot as he left the salesroom, referring to the auction atmosphere, “it’s not the same market as it was a couple of years ago.”

Fortunately, there was plenty of firepower post-Spiegel as Rudolf Stingel’s mural  scaled self-portrait, “Untitled (After Sam)” from 2006 in oil on canvas brought  a record $10,551,500 (est. $10-15 million) and Mark Grotjahn’s 101 by 73 ½ inch abstraction, “Untitled (S III Released to France Face 43.14)” from 2011 in oil on cardboard mounted on canvas hit a record $16,767,500 (est. $13-16 million).

It was consigned by Paris based noted design dealer Patrick Seguin who acquired the work directly from the artist in 2011.

“I’m building a house in the south of France with Jean Nouvel and I made the decision to sell the painting.”

In the 1 Percent Blue Chip realm, Francis Bacon’s stirring triptych, “Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer” from 1963, with each canvas measuring 14 by 12 inches and depicting another distorted view of the handsome sitter, sold to a telephone bidder for $51,767,500 (unpublished estimate in excess of $50 million).

It now ranks as the 6th most expensive Bacon at auction.

Dyer, of course, one of the artist’s serial subjects, was Bacon’s lover who tragically committed suicide in Paris on the eve of Bacon’s breakout retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1972.

In that same, upper atmosphere realm, Roy Lichtenstein’s brilliant “Red and White Brushstrokes” from 1965, lusciously painted across a hypnotic sweep of blue Ben Day dots, hit $28,247,500 (est. $25-35 million).

The Lichtenstein was also backed by a third party guarantee as was Andy Warhol’s hand painted in casein and graphite on linen (not silkscreened) “Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable)” from 1962 that sold to another telephone bidder for $27,500,000 (unpublished estimate in excess of $26 million).

It last sold at Christie’s New York in November 2010 for $23.8 million.

Basquiat made another curtain call with the menacing, uniformed figure, “La Hara” from 1981 in acrylic and oilstick on wood panel that sold in the salesroom for an estimate topping $34,967,500 (est. $22-28 million).

“I work for a collection,” said the elegantly attired, British accented woman as she exited the salesroom immediately after her winning bid, declining to further identify herself or her client.

The widely exhibited early work formerly resided in the Glenstone Foundation based in Potomac Maryland.

The action resumes with a double-header on Thursday at Phillips’ 20th Century and Contemporary Art sale at 5 pm and followed by Sotheby’s Contemporary Art sale at 7 pm.

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