MUSCLE AT OCTOBER AUCTIONS
"Buyer confidence remains high," said Christie’s New York contemporary-art specialist Robert Manley at a recent press lunch, taking the temperature of the current art market with four concise words. Indeed, art auctions in New York, London and other major cities this October have scored new highs in almost every category. Most observers see no signs that the anticipated slowdown in the U.S. economy, prompted by the weakness of the mortgage market or the high price of oil, has even touched the fine art business. Yet. Some highlights:
* Sotheby’s London sales of contemporary and Italian art, held on Oct. 12-15, 2007, and timed to coincide with the Frieze Art Fair and ancillary events, totaled £66,250,000, almost double the firm’s London total from a year ago. The action kicked off on Friday night with a sale of contemporary art that totaled £34,865,300 ($70,692,882), with almost 84 percent of lots finding buyers.
Highlights included a world auction record for a Chinese work of art, when Yue Minjun’s Execution (1995), a rather repellent play on execution scenes by Goya and Manet -- everyone’s laughing, of course -- sold for £2,932,500 after a long battle between two telephone bidders.
Another auction record was set, this one for an Indian work of art, when London-based artist Raqib Shaw’s three-part Garden of Earthly Delights III, a phantasmagoria of glitter, rhinestones and enamel on board from 2003, sold for £2,708,500. According to the Baer Faxt, the buyer was New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch, who gave the artist his first and only New York solo show in 2005.
Artist records were also set for Banksy (£322,900), George Condo (£276,500), Rosemarie Trockel (£252,500), Yang Shaobin (£240,500), James Turrell (£216,500) and Martin Kobe (£72,500).
Sotheby’s London evening sale of 20th-century Italian art on Oct. 15, 2007 -- an annual sale that was launched in 1999 -- totaled £15,197,475, a new record for a sale of 20th-century art. More than 87 percent of the lots found buyers. Piero Manzoni’s Achrome (1959) sold for £2,260,500, a new auction record for the artist.
Six other artist’s records were set at the sale: Alighiero Boetti (£1,180,969), Michelangelo Pistoletto (£345,300), Nicola de Maria (£78,500), Salvo (£58,100), Luigi Ghirri (£12,500) and Ugo Mulas (£11,875).
* Christie’s London post-war and contemporary sales, held on Oct. 14-16, 2007, totaled £66,565,575 ($135,108,066), a mere £315,000 more than its archrival Sotheby’s. Christie’s sold the top lot of the week, Francis Bacon’s "rent-cheque" painting, Study from the Human Body, Man Turning on the Light, for £8,084,500 ($16,468,730).
Although some observers thought the Bacon should have gone for more, it did pretty well for the Royal College of Art, which was given the painting directly by the artist in 1969 (as rent for a studio) and was selling it to raise funds for a new campus.
Another highlight was Marc Newson’s Lockheed Lounge (1986), which sold for £748,500 ($1,515,713), a new auction record for any living designer.
New artists records were set for Beatriz Milhazes (£228,500), Shiro Kuramata (£156,500), Scott Burton (£156,000), Ron Arad (£120,500), Jonathan Meese (£132,500), Robert Longo (£192,500), Olafur Eliasson (£748,500), Anselm Reyle (£311,700), Yin Zhaoyang (£156,500) and Carsten Höller (£30,500).
* Phillips, de Pury & Co. launched its new London showroom with a series of four sales, all held on Oct. 13, 2007. The Marino Golinelli collection of contemporary art sold 126 of 137 lots, or 92 percent, for a total of £5,054,520. The John L. Stewart Collection of Russian art sold 59 of 65 lots offered, or almost 91 percent, for a total of £3,625,320.
Phillips contemporary art evening sale sold 103 of 123 lots offered, or almost 84 percent, for a total of £23,106,800. And the "Farber Collection of China Avant-Garde" sold 40 of 45 lots offered, or almost 89 percent, for a total of £10,147,440.
* Sotheby’s New York sales of photographs, Oct. 15-16, 2007, totaled $12,709,389. The top lot was Edward Weston’s Nautilus (1927), a gelatin silver print signed on the mount, which sold for $1,105,000, above the presale high estimate of $900,000 and a record for the artist at auction. The buyer was Pace-MacGill gallery.
The sales also set new auction records for Imogen Cunningham ($361,000), Peter Beard ($277,000), Louis Faurer ($133,000), Frederick Sommer ($85,000), Aaron Siskind ($73,000), and Herb Ritts ($109,000), among others.
* Christie’s New York sale of photographs, held in three parts, Oct. 17-18, 2007, totaled $9.78 million. The sale of 37 photographs from a private collection was 92 percent sold, with three lots bought in, for a total of $2,061,150. The top lot was Robert Frank’s Trolley, New Orleans (1955), which went for $623,400, well above the presale high estimate of $250,000 and a new auction record for the artist. The buyer was an anonymous U.S. dealer.
The collection of Rex, Inc., a Rhode Island private equity firm, included 51 lots -- largely portraits of artists; 33 sold, or 65 percent, for a total of $1,184,025. Top lot was a black-and-white Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still that sold for $205,000, about double the presale estimate. Among the other interesting lots was a Francesca Woodman nude Self Portrait with Lily, Rome (1977-78), which sold for $43,000, well above the presale high estimate of $30,000.
Christie’s third and final sale offered 259 lots; 183 sold, or 71 percent, for a total of $6,532,825. Among the interesting results was the $361,000 paid for a 1978 print of Irving Penn’s 1948 photo, Cuzco Children (it carried a presale estimate of $200,000-$300,000), and the $217,000 paid for Robert Mapplethorpe’s Calla Lily (1988), well above the presale high estimate of $120,000.
* Phillips, de Pury & Co. held its New York sale of photographs on Oct. 17, 2007, selling 189 of 243 lots, or almost 78 percent, for a total of $4,321,383. Top lot was Hiroshi Sugimoto’s hazy black-and-white print of Villa Savoye, Le Corbusier (1998), which went for $336,000, almost double the presale high estimate.
The sale set new auction records for Massimo Vitali ($72,000), Lewis Baltz ($72,000), Ruud van Empel ($45,600) and Renée Cox ($15,600), among others.
* Swann Galleries in New York held its photography auction on Oct. 15, 2007, and the house notched its first million-dollar lot when a partial set of Edward S. Curtis’ The North American Indian, number 74 of a planned edition of 500 and signed by Curtis, the financial backer J.P. Morgan and Theodore Roosevelt, sold for $1,048,000 to a private collector.
* Sotheby’s New York sale of 19th-century European art on Oct. 23, 2007, totaled $24,169,288, with 163 of 272 lots finding buyers, or almost 60 percent. In an amusing demonstration of the breadth of the category, the top lot was a painting by Gustave Courbet, while the next five top lots were by William Adolphe Bouguereau. Courbet’s Le Veau Blanc (1873), a painting of a brown-spotted white heifer looking out at the viewer as it stops to drink from a stream, sold for $2,505,000, considerably above the presale high estimate of $380,000. The buyer was anonymous.
The top Bouguereau lot was Jeunesse (1893), a ca. 75 x 48 in. painting of young woman at a well stopping her ears against the imprecations of two earnest cupids. It sold for $2,393,000, rather towards the low end of its presale estimate of $2,000,000-$3,000,000.
* Christie’s New York sale of 19th-century European and Orientalist art on Oct. 24, 2007, totaled $14,756,475, with 183 of 283 lots finding buyers, or 65 percent. The top lot, Arthur Von Ferraris’ The Blind Man (1892), a small (ca. 25 x 19 in.) oil-on-panel of a rather touching Arabian genre scene, sold for $937,000, more than double its presale high estimate of $400,000, a new auction record for the artist. The buyer was reported to be a Middle-Eastern collector.
The sale saw new auction records for Rudolph Ernst ($657,000), Jehan Georges Vibert ($481,000), Ramon Casas ($445,000, bought by French & Co.) and Benjamin Constant ($421,000). The fourth highest top lot was Bougereau’s Le jour (1884), a floating nude being brought flowers by small birds, a flowing magenta drapery coyly covering her sex. It sold for $577,000 (est. $500,000-$700,000) to an anonymous buyer.
* Christie’s Los Angeles sale of California, Western and American art on Oct. 24, 2007, totaled $3,866,625, with 66 of 87 lots finding buyers, or 76 percent. Top lot was Nicolai Fechin’s Tonita, a schmaltzy portrait of a contemporary Indian maiden holding a bouquet of flowers and wearing what looks like the Native-American equivalent of Ugg boots, which sold for $1,105,000 (est. $700,000-$1,000,000), a new auction record for the artist. The sale also set new auction records (in the top ten alone) for Colin Campbell Cooper ($289,000) and Thomas L. Hunt ($199,000). Most of the buyers in the top ten were U.S.
* On the level of personnel, word on the street is that Cary Leibowitz has left Christie’s print department and is starting a new print division at Phillips, de Pury & Co. -- though not for six months, due to a non-compete clause in his Christie’s contract. Christie’s seems to be a primary poaching ground for employees -- the house also recently lost its modern print expert Kelly Troester to Bloomsbury, a London-based auctioneer that is opening a branch in New York.SUPER HIGHS FOR AFRICAN-AMERICAN ART
Easily the most under-valued sector of the modern and contemporary art market is that occupied by African-American artists. Thus, the Swann Galleries sale in New York on Oct. 4, 2007, of 94 works from the African-American art collection of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, one of the oldest such black-owned firms in the U.S., was closely watched. Of the 94 lots offered, 87 sold, or 92 percent, for a total of $1,421,470, including the auction-house premium of 20 percent.
New auction records were set for 31 artists, an incredible number. The sale was the second auction by Swann’s new African-American department, which is headed by Nigel Freeman. &The strong results demonstrate the tremendous growth in appreciation of these artists," he said, from important masters to artists whose works were offered for the first time."
The sale included no less than 23 artists whose works had never appeared at auction before.
The sale’s top lot was Charles White’s General Moses (Harriet Tubman) (1965), a dignified and large-scale (47 x 68 in.) ink drawing of the heroic opponent of slavery, done at the beginning of the Civil Rights battle. It sold for $360,000, well above the presale high estimate of $250,000.
Other significant lots included Hughie Lee-Smith’s Slum Song (1944), a dark and romantic oil of a young man playing the flute on a rooftop, which sold for $216,000 (est. $40,000-$60,000), and John Biggers’ Market Woman, Ghana (ca. 1960), a richly patterned scene of daily life, which was purchased for $96,000, somewhat below its $100,000 presale low estimate.
New auction records were also set for Varnette P. Honeywood ($15,600), Samella Lewis ($16,800), John Riddle, Jr. ($15,600), Beulah Woodard ($19,200) and Richard Wyatt, Jr. ($18,000).
For complete, illustrated auction results, see Artnet’s signature Fine Art Auctions Report