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Prestige sales in New York produce mixed results

[17/05/2011]

 

Although generally considered safer (and less volatile) investments, the Modern Masters failed to generate the estimated results at Christie’s and Sotheby’s May sales in New York, generating a combined total of just $285.65m from their Impressionist & Modern Art sessions.

Modern art loses momentum
Christie’s were targeting $162m – $277m from their 4 May sale, but the total was well under the estimate low total at just $136.4m. Uptown at Sotheby’s the previous day, the equivalent sale produced a better total of $149.2m but the results were also disappointing considering the targeted price range of $158m – $231m.
Pablo PICASSO‘s Femmes lisant (deux personnages), the star lot of the sale fetched $19m versus an estimate of $25m – $35m. Even the extremely rare wood sculpture by Paul GAUGUIN received only a lukewarm response from investors, fetching $10m against a $10m – $15m estimate.
Christie’s also suffered weak enthusiasm for its star lots. In fact, Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger, version L fetched just $19m against an estimate of $20m – $30m. Despite the superb pedigree of Claude MONET’s Les peupliers – considering its creation date of 1891, an emblematic year for the Impressionists and the rarity of the theme on the Monet auction market – the work failed to spark passionate bidding, reaching no higher than its low estimate of $20m. It was nevertheless three times more than the price paid for the same work in 2000 at Christie’s New York ($6.4m).
Despite some major disappointments however, a number of lots kept up with the auctioneers’ expectations such as Alexej VON JAWLENSKYFrau mit Gruenem Faecher that fetched $10m at Sotheby’s (est. $8m – $12m). At Christie’s a superb Fauvist work by Maurice DE VLAMINCK, Paysage de Banlieue, sold within its estimated range for $20m setting a new record for the artist, $9m higher than his previous record (Les pêcheurs à Nanterre, €9.4m, Loudmer in Paris). Another work that actually exceeded the estimates was Henri MATISSE’s La Fenêtre ouverte fetching $14m (est. $8m – $12m).

Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art sale produced better results
With a sales total of $265.18m (excl. fees) from its Post-War & Contemporary Art sale a week later, Christie’s confirmed its strong position in the Contemporary art segment. Andy WARHOL’s Self-Portrait contributed a handsome $34.25m to this total, his fourth best-ever auction result.
Carrying a pre-sale tag of 30 to 40 million euros, his gigantic Self-Portrait in red and black fetched just $24.5m, i.e. $5.5m below its low estimate.
In fact, the best result of the sale came from the bright Mark ROTHKO painting, Untitled No. 17, which largely exceeded its high estimate of $8m due to its exceptional qualities (the work has only recently been attributed to the artist). Francis BACON’s tryptich, Studies for Self-Portrait, never-before sold at auction, fetched $22.5m. Among the new artists’ records scored at the Christie’s sale, there was $6m for a giant sculpture (7 metres tall) by Urs FISCHER, Untitled (Lamp/Bear), nearly seven times his previous record (Untitled (Candle), $900,000, Sotheby’s New York in November 2010).
$3.4m is now the top price ever paid for a photograph at auction, and it was Cindy SHERMAN’s Untitled (1981) that generated this sum against an estimate of $1.5m – $2m. That result is $1m better than her previous record signed in November 2010 at Phillips de Pury for Untitled #153. The American artist has now overtaken the UK duo GILBERT & GEORGE who held the world’s best auction price for a photo title since their To her Majesty, 1973 fetched $3.2m in June 2008 at Christie’s, London.

Uptown at Sotheby’s the overall result was not so good; in fact the total struggled to reach just $111.15m against a minimum total estimate of $121m.
Jeff KOONSPink Panther sold for $15m against an estimate of $20m – $30m and Andy Warhol’s Sixteens Jackies, that Sotheby’s also hoped would generate between $20m and $30m, went under the hammer for $18m. Numerous works sold beneath there pre-sale estimates, particularly the most important works in the sale. Willem DE KOONING’s Untitled VII fetched $3.75m vs. an estimate of $4m – $6m; Lucio FONTANA’s Concetto Spaziale went for $5.5m vs. an estimate of $6m – $8m.
On the other hand, Jean-Michel BASQUIAT’s Eroica I fetched $5.2m vs. a high estimate of $4.5m. The same work had sold for $580,000 in 2000 at Sotheby’s New York.

In 2010, the two auction rivals had generated a combined sum of $836m from their May sales in New York. This year, buyers shelled out a total of $662m at the NY May sales. However, the results were disappointing overall and a large number of the estimates were cut down to more modest sums – and it was a long way from the mega-results seen at the same sales in 2010.

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