Art Market Watch
WOMEN TAKE OVER
IN NEW YORK MOD
& CONTEMPO SALES
International Women’s Day fell on Mar. 8, 2012, and the art market seemed to take note during sales of modern and contemporary art, held at Christie’s, Phillips de Pury and Sotheby’s in New York during Mar. 7-9, 2012. The so-called mid-season auctions are mammoth (in terms of volume) and the price point for entry is lower than at the major sales.
It’s no surprise, then, that these auctions typically contain a large number of works by women, more than are typically in the primetime sales. Still, it’s curious to note that the top lot at each auction house was a work by a woman artist.
(For the record, the highest price paid for a work by a woman artist at auction is $10.86 million for Les Fleurs, 1912, by Natalia Goncharova in 2008. The top price for a living woman artist is $6.6 million paid for Cady Noland’s Oozewal, 1989, in November 2011. And the record for any work at auction is $104.3 million for Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man, 1960, in 2010.)
Christie’s First Open
At Christie’s “First Open” sale on Mar. 7, the trippy Nu Azul (1997) by Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes sold for $626,500 (with premium), more than triple the presale high estimate of $200,000.
Runner-up lots included a small Ed Ruscha work that carried the same estimate and sold for $554,500, and a diaphanous quilt-like wall hanging by Jim Hodges, This is Where We’ll Stay (1995), that sold for $482,500, just above its $400,000 presale low estimate. Hodges auction record is north of $2 million.
The auction also represented a small triumph for artists from “emerging markets” -- a term used most commonly for work created by artists from the BRIC countries. Nu Azul was sold by the Reader’s Digest Association, which also parted with Louise Lawler’s Is She Ours for $120,100 (est. $30,000-$50,000).
The Hodges was one of 45 works being sold by supercollector Peter Norton, the software pioneer. His lots included a 1999 life-sized 3D bathroom made of diaphanous sewn silk -- including a rather off-putting toilet -- by the Korean artist Do-Ho Suh ($86,500), and Los Angeles (1984), a 42-part installation of black-and-white photos with English text panels by Sophie Calle ($68,500), who also created a version of the piece in French.
A classic work by Deborah Kass, Double Double Yentl (My Elvis), from the Norton Collection, which shows a cross-dressing Barbara Streisand as Yentl and sold for $62,500, a bargain though the price is well above the $15,000 presale high estimate and a new auction record for the artist. This time around Kass outperformed Andy Warhol, at least in terms of his Polaroid self-portrait in drag, which went for $18,750.
Five artists donated works to benefit the Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to the LGBTQ community. Top lot here was an American flag executed in gold on a cardboard box, titled Mamy Poko Pants Diapers, by the Vietnamese-born conceptual artist Danh Vô -- a star of the current “Ungovernables” exhibition at the New Museum -- that sold for $33,750, against a high estimate of $7,000 -- his first appearance at auction.
Another gold leaf work, this one by Jim Hodges, sold for $50,000, and Marilyn Minter’s Nail Biter fetched $10,625. A pair of photographs by Roni Horn added an additional $3,750 to the kitty, but a photograph donated by Jack Pierson was bought in.
In a possible instance of spot fatigue, the highest estimated lot of the evening -- a Damien Hirst spot painting -- also went unsold (est. $600,000-$800,000). In total, the sale achieved $10.6 million for 196 lots sold.
Phillips de Pury & Company
For the third year in a row, Phillips de Pury hosted a small evening sale alongside its larger March contemporary art sale. The pair of sales on Mar. 8 totaled $7.2 million, and Cindy Sherman led the group there, too, when a nightmarish 2004 photograph from her “Clown” series sold within presale estimates for $446,500. Another photograph, this one from the “Color Tests” series, brought $68,500. It had last sold at auction in November 2008 at Sotheby’s New York for $37,500.
The first lot of the evening sale, and the most hyped, was a 2004 Maybach 57 featured in the Spike Jonze-directed music video for Jay-Z and Kanye West’s song Otis. Though the vehicle was being offered “partly to benefit Save the Children,” it sold for about half its $100,000 low estimate ($60,000).
But back to the art. Phillips set two artists records early on in the sale -- one for Tauba Auerbach, whose 2006 Binary Lowercase sold for$86,500, and one for Double Circle No. 1 (2008) by Garth Weiser, which brought $43,750. Weiser has exhibited his abstract paintings, whose designs are determined by the movements of the Solar System, at Casey Kaplan and Altman Siegel galleries.
Of the 36 lots on offer during the evening sale, only four failed to find buyers. The top lot of the 330-lot day sale was a work on canvas by the graffiti artist Futura 2000 from 1985, titled Working on a Perfect Game, that more than doubled its high presale estimate, selling for $52,500.
Sotheby’s New York
Sotheby’s $12 million sale on Mar. 9 was led by one of Cindy Sherman’s highly sought after “Film Stills,” which was propelled to an estimable $746,500, well above the $200,000 presale high estimate but still less than the 2007 auction record of $1.2 million for a work from this series. Later, a 1982 Sherman self-portrait titled As Marilyn Monroe sold for $37,500 (est. $15,000-$20,000).
Surprising no one, a 1983 abstract painting by Gerhard Richter, Montag, sold above its $350,000 estimate for $548,500, and a pencil sketch on paper, estimated to bring up to $12,000, rose to $68,500. The market for Richter paintings was the subject of heated debate in the blogosphere last week as Felix Salmon of Reuters took issue with Citibank art advisor Jonathan Binstock in a column that shed more heat than light on the subject (Salmon’s argument seems to revolve around his animus towards Richter’s art rather than his analysis of market behavior).
Craft made a rare appearance in the top lots with Ruth Asawa’s shapely crocheted sculpture made of copper wire (1952), which was purchased for $278,500, above the $180,000 presale high estimate.
Sotheby’s sale was bursting with works by Sam Francis and Alexander Calder, with 20 lots on offer between the two of them. Buyers were most interested in a Calder mobile called Wichita ($422,500) and a circular Francis featuring a big red splash that sold for $134,500, above the presale high estimate of $80,000. The same price was paid for a dizzying Calder gouache that was estimated to bring $40,000-$60,000.
The $12 million tally at Sotheby’s was the highest result for a mid-season contemporary art sale since the spring of 2008, possibly boosting confidence to consign in May among sellers left uneasy following the auction house’s announcement of a 25.7 percent decline in its net income for the fourth quarter of 2011.
For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet’s signature Fine Art Auctions Report.
JESSICA MIZRACHI is a decorative arts specialist who writes on the art market.