Well over a billion dollars hammered at New York’s sales

[31/05/2024]

Against the backdrop of somewhat low key art auction results since the start of the year, New York’s sales of Modern and Contemporary art in May managed to reassure both sellers and collectors: together, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips generated $1.3 billion.

The market has clearly been more selective over the past year and a half, but in May the mood in New York was more optimistic after good results in London and Paris. In fact, New York’s prestige sales season confirmed the overall health of the art market, and generated several exceptional results.

Christie’s hammered the highest total of $640 million

$640 million from its 20th and 21st Century Art sales (May 14-18): 86% of lots sold, with 89% of lots sold within or above estimates.

Despite a cyberattack disrupting its website just before the opening of its major New York sessions, Christie’s totaled $640 million from its 20th and 21st Century Art sessions. That sum includes 413.3 million from its prestigious 20th Century Art sale, a total that was in line with expectations and significantly higher than last year’s total ($328.7 million) at the same sale.

Sessions devoted to Contemporary Art generated $114.6 million, notably thanks to masterpieces from the Rosa de la Cruz collection. All the lots sold from that collection generated a total of $34.36 million. The highlight was a work titled Light String by Felix GONZALEZ-TORRES acquired by Japan’s Pola Museum of Art in Hakone for $13.6 million, a new record for the Cuban-American artist. Two works by Ana MENDIETA also sold above her previous auction record, which now stands at $567,000.

The week also saw works from a collection put together by American producer and actor Norman Lear who died in 2023. The best result from this collection was generated by David Hockney’s A Lawn Being Sprinkled (1967) which reached $28.5 million. Norman Lear also had a powerful Ed Ruscha painting, Truth (1973), which sold for $14.7 million, more than doubling its low estimate.

Andy WARHOL’s imposing Flowers (1964) generated the highest result of the day at $35.5 million, well above its high estimate of $30 million, while Jean-Michel BASQUIAT’s The Italian Version of Popeye has no Pork in his Diet (1982) sold for $32 million. Basquiat also dominated the sale at Phillips with his Untitled (ELMAR) fetching $46.5 million.

Christie’s also consolidated Georgia O’Keeffe’s price standing by selling her stunning oil painting Red Poppy (1928) for $16.5 million to an anonymous bidder. The last time this painting came up for auction in May 1990, it sold for just $1.1 million.

Claude Monet, Meules à Giverny, 34,8m$. Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s: total of $633.4 million… safely within estimates

$633.4 million from its sales of Modern, 20th and 21st Century Art (May 13-16), including nearly $35 million for a painting by Claude Monet.

Half a dozen works by Picasso, several by Magritte, a number of works by other key Surrealists, a rare Monet were among the 50 lots offered in its Modern Art sale on May 15. In sum, Sotheby’s bought in only two (not counting two withdrawn lots that together would have generated between $3.5 and 5.5 million), giving a good sold-through rate of 96%. About two-thirds of the lots were backed by financial guarantees from Sotheby’s, third parties, or a combination of both.

The sale’s main attractions were Claude MONET’s Meules à Giverny ($34.8 million) and Leonora CARRINGTON’s Les Distractions de Dagobert ($28.48 million). In total the sale generated $198.1 million, a lower total than the previous year’s equivalent sale which took $303.1 million from 40 lots sold, including Gustav Klimt’s Insel im Attersee ($53.2 million).

Among the notable results, Alexander CALDER’s immense Blue Moon mobile (1962) topped its estimate at $14.4 million incl. fees, and an Untitled abstract painting by Mark ROTHKO fetched $11.3 million vs. £820,000 when it sold at Christie’s in London 20 years ago.

René MAGRITTE’s Le Banquet (c. 1955-57) fetched $18.1 million, compared with $12 million in 2017 at Sotheby’s New York. The highlight of Sotheby’s Contemporary art sale was Francis BACON’s Portrait of George Dyer which sold for $27.7 million, below its low estimate.

One of the best surprises of these May sales was the new record for Leonora Carrington, whose Les Distractions de Dagobert (1945), a mind-boggling composition reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch, fetched $28.5 million, more than double its low estimate. The buyer was none other than Eduardo F. Constantini, founder of the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (Malba), confirming the current market enthusiasm for works by women artists.