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ART MARKET WATCH
May 16, 2008 

$1.9 MILLION FOR MOCA L.A. AT PHILLIPS
Phillips, de Pury & Co.
launched its evening sale of contemporary art in New York on May 15, 2008, with a benefit auction for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and raised a total of $1,909,000, selling all 29 donated lots -- the buyer’s premium, which can add another 20 percent or so to the final price, was waived -- and setting records for eight artists in the process.

New auction records were set for Sterling Ruby, whose "Substraction"-style spray-paint abstraction SP28, done just this year, went for $260,000, and Matthew Monahan, whose 2007 Morning Thaw, an 84-inch-tall fractured Venus inside a glass case, sold for $92,000. Records were also set for Suling Wang ($32,000), Edgar Bryan ($26,000) and James Welling ($20,000), and for collaborative works by Jim Shaw & Benjamin Weissman ($41,000), and Wade Guyton & Kelley Walker ($35,000). Neither team had had a work come to auction before.

For its regular contemporary sale, Phillips totaled $59,345,000, with 55 of 64 lots selling, or almost 86 percent.  The sum is at the low end of its presale estimate range of $50.5 million-$72.1 million. Top lots included Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1981 Untitled (Fallen Angel), which sold for $11,241,000; Jeff Koons’ 1991 marble Self-Portrait, which sold for $7,545,000; and Gerhard Richter’s 1986 Abstraktes Bild 610-1, which sold for $4,521,000.

$107.8 MILLION AT SOTHEBY’S DAY SALE
The day sale of contemporary art at Sotheby’s New York on May 15, 2008, totaled $107,770,775, a new record for a day sale in the category, breaking the $100-million mark for the first time. Of 444 lots offered, 355 sold, or 80 percent. According to the firm, "the global participation" in the sale demonstrates the broad appeal of contemporary art.

The top lot was Ed Ruscha’s I Don’t Want No Retro Spective (1979), which sold for $3,961,000, well above the presale high estimate of $1,500,000 and a new auction record for a work on paper by the artist. The work was being sold by actor Bud Cort, star of the cult Hal Ashby film Harold and Maude (1971), and a friend of the artist’s. Ruscha made the work for Cort after the actor spoke the title phrase in response to news of a survey showing of his films. The buyer, according to press reports, was Larry Gagosian, Ruscha’s dealer.

The top ten also included a record price for a print (or rather, a portfolio of 18 prints) by Barnett Newman ($2,057,000), and the third highest price at auction for a work on paper by Arshile Gorky ($2,449,000). An Andy Warhol Dollar Sign sold for $1,161,000 from the estate of David Whitney to benefit the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The sale also set a new auction record for Beatríz Milhazes, whose neo-baroque Ó magico from 2001, which carried a presale estimate of $250,000-$350,000, sold for $1,049,000.

Sotheby’s combined total for both its evening and day sales of contemporary art is $469,807,775, at the top end of the presale estimate range of $371.1 million-$472.7 million, a record number for a contemporary sales series at Sotheby’s (and the highest total for the week, beating out arch-rival Christie’s).

$82.6 MILLION AT CHRISTIE’S DAY SALE
Christie’s New York day sale of post-war and contemporary art on May 14, 2008, totaled $82,553,350, with 276 of 339 lots selling, or more than 81 percent. New auction records were set for David Park, whose 1959 painting of a nude, blond Louise in a landscape sold for $2,729,000, more than double its presale high estimate of $1.2 million. Records were also set for Jean-Paul Riopelle ($1,889,000) and Norman Bluhm ($1,138,600).

Additional records were set for Conrad Marca-Relli ($1,105,000), Louise Nevelson ($634,000), Richard Pousette-Dart ($577,000), Alice Neel ($505,000), Alma Thomas ($157,000) and Giorgio Cavallon ($133,000).

The grand total for contemporary art auctions at Christie’s New York is $430,816,950, about $39 million less than Sotheby’s.

ONE WORD FOR SOTHEBY’S STOCK: VOLATILE
Sotheby’s successful sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art in the past two weeks seems to have given a 16 percent boost to its stock price, which currently stands at about 28.50 (on May 15, 2008). The stock is nothing if not volatile. It hit a high of 57.64 on Oct. 10, 2007, but began falling precipitously, no doubt due to fears that the recession would slow down the art boom.

Sotheby’s stock began 2008 at 38.58 and continued to gyrate, though on a generally downward trajectory. More bad news came on May 9, 2008, when the firm reported its first-quarter results -- a net loss of $12.4 million, or 19 cents a share, compared with a profit of $24.3 million a year earlier. Sotheby’s said the loss was due to higher employee salaries -- up 12 percent -- as well as an increase of 20 percent in the costs of sending said employees across the new global art market in search of choice property to put on the block.

By May 15, 2008, Sotheby’s stock had dropped to 24, despite the nice results of its Impressionist sales. The current rebound to 28.50 no doubt reflects the good results of this week’s auctions of contemporary art.


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