That distant rumbling sound is the art market juggernaut approaching New York for two weeks of auctions of Impressionist, modern, post-war and contemporary art, Nov. 7-16, 2006. The sales have an absurd number of big-ticket properties, as they are called. Altogether, the ballpark figure for two weeks of auctions at Sotheby's is about $500 million, while Christie's is rather higher, around $700 million.
Sotheby's goes first on Nov. 7 with its evening sale of Impressionist and modern art. Top lots include Paul Cézanne's Nature morte aux fruits et pot de gingembre from ca. 1895 (est. $28 million-$35 million), Claude Monet's La Plage ŕ Trouville (est. $16.5 million-$20 million) and Amedeo Modigliani's Le Fils du Concierge (est. $14 million-$18 million).
Christie's has snagged more headline properties by far. Its evening sale of Impressionist and modern art on Nov. 8, 2006, features the four paintings by Gustav Klimt from the collection of Ferdinand & Adele Bloch-Bauer (carrying a cumulative estimate of $85 million-$140 million); Pablo Picasso's celebrated 1903 Portrait of Angel Fernández de Soto, being sold by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation (est. $40,000,000-$60,000,000); Paul Gauguin's widely exhibited 1891 L'homme ŕ la hache ($35,000,000-$45,000,000); Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's 1913 Berlin Street Scene ($18,000,000-$24,000,000), restituted from the Brücke-Museum in Berlin; and a varied assortment of seven-figure lots.
A little-known, Morandi-like Picasso Still Life with Portrait (1906), restituted from the collection of Duncan V. Phillips, grandson of Phillips Collection founder Duncan C. Phillips, to the heirs of its pre-World War II owner, goes on the block at Christie's with a presale estimate of $2,500,000-$3,500,000. Christie's presale estimate for the evening sale overall is $340 million-$490 million.
Sotheby's two-day sale of contemporary art on Nov. 14-15, which has a total presale estimate of $146,3 million-$199,9 million for both days, features a monumental painting from 1968 by Francis Bacon, Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe (est. $9,000,000-$12,000,000), from the Vanthournout Collection in Belgium. Supposedly, Bacon said the syringe was only a visual rather than an ominous accent. The sale also includes works by Peter Doig (est. $1,000,000-$1,500,000), Jenny Saville ($900,000-$1,200,000) and Barnaby Furnas ($400,000-$600,000).
The Christie's New York sale of post-war and contemporary art on Nov. 15, with a total presale estimate of $160 million-$220 million, is the most valuable ever. Top lots range from Andy Warhol's Mao portrait (est. $8,000,000-$12,000,000) and Willem de Kooning's Untitled XXV (est. $12 million) to works by Marlene Dumas, Damien Hirst, Lisa Yuskavage, Zhang Xiaogang and Cai Guo-Qiang...
But we get ahead of ourselves. Let's take a look back at the auction action in October 2006 -- plenty has been going on (the art market never sleeps). All three auction houses mounted big sales of contemporary art during "Frieze Week" in London, Oct. 13-17, 2006.
Christie's series of five auctions totaled £44,001,980 ($81,906,295). The house's special benefit sale of contemporary art for the Michael Clark Company on Oct. 15 did remarkably well, totaling £19,174,000 ($35,663,640) and setting new auction records for 19 artists. Among the records were Tom Wesselmann's gaily erotic Great American Nude #88 (1967), which sold for £1,408,000 ($2,618,880), and Zhang Xiaogang's somber A Big Family Series (1995), which was purchased for £769,600 ($1,431,456).
Christie's "Italian Sale" on Oct. 16, which totaled £15,657,600 ($29,029,190), set auction records for Lucio Fontana (£2,136,000; $3,960,144) and Giulio Paolini (£243,200; $458,867). A series of eight embroidered photographs of Vincente Minnelli by Francesco Vezzoli sold for £96,000 ($181,132), a new record for the artist.
Sotheby's London series of four sales totaled £31,446,600 ($59,327,782). The first sale was an auction of contemporary art donated to help fund a £10-million expansion to the Whitechapel Gallery. The sale raised £2,778,600, and set new auction records for Tony Cragg (£90,000) and a Richard Diebenkorn etching (£140,000).
Sotheby's London's Oct. 16 "20th-century Italian Art" sale totaled £11,501,000 ($21,727,689), with new auction records for Alighiero Boetti (£568,000; $1,071,698), Luciano Fabro (£489,600; $924,952), Afro (£467,200; $882,634) and 12 other artists.
Phillips, de Pury & Co. held its inaugural auction of contemporary art and design in London on Oct. 14, totaling £8,586,000 and setting 15 new artist's records. Top lot was Piotr Uklanski's The Nazis (1998), a suite of 164 photos of movie actors in Nazi roles, which sold for £568,000, a new record for the artist.
Records were also set at Phillips for Rudolf Stingel (£120,000; $226,415), Thomas Hirschhorn (£84,000; $158,490), Franz West (£84,000; $158,490), Johanes Kahrs (£78,000; $147,169), Wim Delvoye (£69,600; $131,320), Gregor Schneider (£62,400; $117,735), Magnus von Plessen (£42,000; $79,245) and Anselm Reyle (£31,200; $58,867). In the design section of the sale, Ron Arad's B.O.O.P Table (1998), sold for £78,000, a new record for the designer.
Meanwhile, back in New York, the art market busied itself with its October photography sales. Sotheby's New York's photo sale on Oct. 17 totaled $6,485,300 with 201 of 247 lots selling, or 81.4 percent. The top lot was a print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico by Ansel Adams, which sold for $609,500 to Hamiltons Galleries of London, bidding on behalf of an anonymous private collector, a new record for the artist at auction.
The photo was being sold by Pirkle Jones, a longtime Adams assistant. An Adams print of Moonrise, of course, launched the heated-up market in photography when it sold back in 1971 for the then-unheard-of price of $71,500.
The sale also set an auction record for Robert Frank, whose New Orleans (Trolley) from 1956 (printed in 1977) sold for $204,000, almost double the presale high estimate of $120,000, and for Garry Winogrand, whose 1968 cover lot from his 1975 book Women Are Beautiful sold for $74,400.
The Sotheby's photo sale also got a good price -- $150,000 -- for a quarter-plate daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe, made by William A. Pratt in Richmond just a few weeks before Poe died in 1849. Consigned by the Hampden-Booth Theater Library in New York City, the picture is only the second daguerreotype of Poe to appear at auction in the last century.
At Christie's New York, the photo sales on Oct. 17-18 totaled $7,590,860, with 279 of 354 lots selling, or 79 percent. The top ten included a new auction record for Robert Mapplethorpe, whose 1987 platinum print of Andy Warhol, framed by the artist in a kind of cross with silk panels, sold for $643,200, double the presale high estimate of $300,000. And Danny Lyon's Conversations with the Dead, 1967-1968, an album of 76 works printed in 1983, sold for $114,000 (est. $40,000-$60,000), a new auction high for the artist.