Contemporary art auctions in New York reassure the market with 34 records in three days

[24 Nov 2002]


In a tense economic climate, contemporary art auctions in New York are proving stronger than modern art and impressionist art sales. The evening auctions may have been unexceptional. But Sotheby’s and Christie’s still managed some reassuring surprises, generally in the less prestigious later sessions, when prices for some artists showed real growth and some of them turned out to be impressive records. Now that exceptional works are in shorter supply, investors are being rigorously selective in the top of the range market.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s turned over almost USD 110 million in two evenings on 12-13 November, bringing sighs of relief all round. In 2001, these auctions only generated USD 69 million. A few pieces by pop art stars whetted investors’ appetites. The highest price fetched at a contemporary art auction in New York was for Willem DE KOONING’s Orestes: USD 12 million. Jasper JOHNS’s O Through 9, estimated at USD 6-8 million, fetched USD 9 million at Christie’s. Happy Tears, fetched USD 6.5 million and became the priciest Roy LICHTENSTEIN ever sold at auction, although the hammer again came down a notch below the high estimate. Unlike the pop art master’s historic Step-on Can With Leg (1961) which soared past its high estimate of USD 1 million to 4 at Sotheby’s. But not all the works on offer enjoyed such great appeal.

The price for popular artists, such as Andy WARHOL or Gerhard RICHTER did not shoot through the roof on this occasion. None of the pieces put up had the quality to command an exceptional price. At Christie’s and Sotheby’s, there were too many works by Bruce NAUMAN, mobiles by Alexander Milne CALDER, insipid portraits by John CURRIN, ill-assorted works Robert GOBER assembled for the two-day auction. The result for these artists was disappointment on the auction floor and high ratio of no-sales. At Christie’s, the only contest was for Untitled (Hand Circle), the first of five Bruce Naumanworks up for auction. The other four failed to reach their low estimates. It was the same story for the four Robert GOBER works. Too many lots tend to kill an auction unless there is the quality to fuel interest.

During the big evening auctions, only the classic contemporary artists really sold well, with younger talents generally overlooked. One exception was Mark TANSEY selling for USD 900,000 (see table). Another was Takashi MURAKAMI who equalled his record in May 2002 (USD 380,000). But generally at the prestige sessions artists born after 1940 were overshadowed by their elders.

It was not until the marathon (morning and evening) auctions that this new generation of artists started to break through. At the Christie’s sale on 14 November, no fewer than 21 artists beat their previous record. Among the best performers were Lisa YUSKAVAGE, Stan DOUGLAS, Inka ESSENHIGH and Douglas GORDON who all broke the USD 500,000 barrier. Results were more mixed at Sotheby’s. Only 9 of the 218 artists represented on 13 November set an auction record.

Today, you do not have to wait for New York’s contemporary art sales to see new records being set. In our sample of the first 20 record sales between 1 September and 15 November, half were elsewhere. London and Paris are ideal centres to propel new artists to the top of the price scale. Italian visual artists Alighiero BOETTI, Giulio PAOLINI and Gino DE DOMINICIS all had resounding successes at the Italian 20th Century Art sale, held on 22 October 2002 in London.

TOP 20 highest auction records for contemporary artists* Lots sold between September, 1st 2002 and November, 15th 2002
*artists born after 1940 Hammer price
(hors frais) Artist title Technic Sale USD 900 000  Mark TANSEY (1949) Achilles and the Tortoise (1986) Oil/canvas  New-York (Dec. 12 2002) USD 431844 Alighiero BOETTI (1940) A tempo in tempo col tempo (1983) Tapestry London (Oct. 22 2002) USD 380 000 Takashi MURAKAMI (1962) Hear a Familiar Voice (1999) Acrylic/panel New-York, (Nov. 13 2002) USD 262 191 Giulio PAOLINI (1940) Mimesi (1975-76)  Plaster London (Oct. 22 2002) USD 115 673 Gino DE DOMINICIS (1947) Untitled (1992)  Mixed Media London (Oct. 22 2002) USD 60 000 Lisa YUSKAVAGE (1962) Little Northview (2001) Oi/canvas New-York (Nov. 14 2002) USD 60 000 Stan DOUGLAS (1960) Detroit Series (1998) Photograph in colors New-York (Nov. 14 2002) USD  55 000 Inka ESSENHIGH (1969) Ozone Hole (1998) Mixed Media New-York (Nov. 14 2002) USD  55 000 Douglas GORDON (1966) The End (Bird Manof Alcatrz) (1995-2000) Print  New-York (Nov. 14 2002) USD 42 000 Marlene DUMAS (1953) Candle Burning (2000) Oil/canvas New-York (Nov. 14 2002)  USD 40 000 Laura OWENS (1970)  Untitled (1995) Acrylic New-York (Nov. 13 2002)   USD  35 066 Tim MAGUIRE (1958) Untitled (1993) Oil/paper Melbourne (Sept. 8 2002) USD 35 000 Michal ROVNER (1957) Border (1997) Photograph New-York (Oct. 10 2002); USD 35 000 Yoshitomo NARA (1959) “Q @ A” (1995) Oil/canvas New-York (Nov. 13 2002) USD 35 000 Gregory CREWDSON (1962) Beer Dreams (1998) Photograph in colors New-York (Nov. 14 2002) USD 35 000 Adam FUSS (1961) Untitled (1996) Getatin silver print New-York (Oct. 25 2002) USD 29 860 Bertrand LAVIER (1949) Peinture (1983) Acrylique/Toile Paris (Oct. 26 2002)  USD 29 384 Francesco VEZZOLI (1971) The Bitter Tears of Vera von Lehndorff (2002) Mixed Media London (Oct. 21 2002);  USD 29 000 Sharon LOCKHART (1964) Untitled (1998) Photographs in colors New-York (Nov. 14 2002) USD 27 500 Jean-Marc BUSTAMANTE (1952) Tableau N°.32 (1980) Photo Paris (Nov. 16 2002) back
© Artprice