Upcoming Contemporary masterpieces in New York



All regular stars of the Contemporary art market’s top bracket, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Peter Doig, Christopher Wool, Andy Warhol, Mike Kelley, Robert Gober, Cy Twombly, Joan Mitchell are just some of the signatures in New York’s spring Contemporary art sales. The works selected are ambitious and so are the estimates.

The series of sales begins on 10 May 2016 with Christie’s offering 61 prudently selected lots, 57 of which are likely to generate more than a million dollars on the basis of the estimates provided. The lowest price in this prestigious sale is $400,000 (for Agnes MARTIN’s The Wave, 1963) and the bidding will probably climb to over $30 million for works by Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, and almost certainly for Basquiat…

Basquiat’s star lot…

The most anticipated piece in the sale is a superb masterpiece by Jean-Michel BASQUIAT, an untitled canvas created in 1982 (the artist’s best year in auction terms, along with 1981) measuring five metres wide. The estimate for this museum-quality work has not been disclosed, but Christie’s has clearly indicated its commitment via a special notice on minimum price guarantees. On 23 June 2004, the painting was offered for sale at Sotheby’s in London where it fetched $4.5 million. If the bidding on this very rare work becomes takes off, the current owner could see his original investment multiply by around ten. To date, Basquiat’s best auction result is $48.8 million in 2013 for Dustheads (1982) which is only half the size of the work being offered on 10 May.
Remember also that Basquiat, with a 2015 auction total of $132.3 million, is effectively the most important artist on today’s Contemporary market (our classification defines Contemporary artists as artists born after 1945). Last year (June 2014 to June 2015) sales of his works confirmed the omnipotence of his signature by generating no less than 7% of the global Contemporary art market’s total turnover! Basquiat is therefore a central pillar of the high-end Contemporary art market (although absent from the ‘All-periods Top 10’ in 2015 for which the entry ticket was $212 million with Roy LICHTENSTEIN). This latest monumental Untitled should contribute to another exceptionally good year for the American artist.

Twombly and Bacon at Sotheby’s

The following day, on 11 May, Sotheby’s will be hosting a sale of just 44 lots with a considerably lower bottom price. A self-portrait as Vincent Van Gogh by the young Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie, much noticed at the 56th Venice Biennale (represented by the Pace Gallery and by Thaddaeus Ropac), is the most affordable piece in the sale with a low estimate of $200,000. Adrian GHENIE has rapidly become a lucrative investment. This particular “self-portrait” was completed in 2012 and exhibited the following year at the Pace Gallery. Its owner will have kept it just three years before putting it back on the market… but the short pleasure of its ownership will no doubt be compensated by a handsome profits.
On 11 May, Sotheby’s hopes to make the most of two works by Cy TWOMBLY for which the estimates have not been disclosed, as well as a superb diptych by Francis BACON. These are the star lots of the sale. Bacon’s set of Two studies for a self-portrait is estimated $22 – 30 million, despite relatively small dimensions (35 x 30 cm). As a self-portrait, the lot is particularly attractive and its residence in the same collection for over 40 years also adds a certain cachet. This small masterpiece was in fact acquired from the Marlborough Gallery in 1970 and has never been sold since. Equally prestigious provenance accompanies the two Twombly works. His 1968 painting Untitled (New York City) remained in the same collection since its purchase in 1969 from the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, and his Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V] (2004) has never been to auction either.
Besides the usual star signatures currently most in-demand, the Sotheby’s catalogue offers a painting by ZHANG Xiaogang. This is interesting because this major figure of Chinese Contemporary art has been conspicuously absent from New York’s prestige sales for a few years … but here comes Bloodline: Big Family No.1, a canvas that could well refresh the artist’s New York record just by reaching its low estimate of $5 million. At that price, however, the acquisition would be a very good deal considering that the same work fetched $8.4 million in Hong Kong in 2011 (Sotheby’s, 3 October 2011). True, the market for Chinese Contemporary art has severely contracted since 2008-09, especially in the West. In the exchange of million-dollar artworks, auction return trips can be as profitable as they can be risky…