Major fairs and prestige sales in New York

[07 May 2013]


The calendar of New York’s big art fairs is pegged to that of city’s prestige sales.Thus, Frieze (10-13 May, Randall’s Island, Manhattan, 180 galleries), which has attracted in its wake many other Contemporary art fairs including Pulse (May 9-12, The Metropolitan Pavilion, 60 galleries) and Cutlog (10-13 May, Suffolk St, Lower East Side, 40 galleries), have organized their private views to coincide with Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist and Modern sales (7 and 8 May 2013) before the opening of the major Post-War & Contemporary Art sales (14 and 15 May)

Christie’s and Sotheby’s base their estimates on the excellent results achieved in 2012

In May 2012, Christie’s and Sotheby’s New York Post-War & Contemporary Art sales generated $578.3 million (excluding buyer’s premium), a record in the history of their Contemporary art auctions. Judging by the catalogues for the same sales this year, the harvest could be equally impressive, particularly with Artprice’s Art Market Confidence Index (AMCI) showing the same level as in 2012 (27.5 points) and expressing a high level of acquisition intentions. In fact, this year, several of the proposed pieces are very high-end indeed, even more so than the best works in the Impressionist & Modern sales, of which 10 are expected to fetch more than $10m (5 at Christie’s and 5 at Sotheby’s) on the 7 and 8 May 2013 compared with 19 at the Post-War & Contemporary Art sales.

Among the star lots at the Impressionist & Modern sales, Christie’s can hope for a new record for Chaïm SOUTINE with Le Petit pâtissier. For this 1927 work – estimated between $16 and $22 million – the auctioneer has committed itself to a guaranteed price. Indeed several works in the May Impressionist & Modern sales are carrying price guarantees, reflecting the auction houses’ confidence in the good performance of the high-end market (the guaranteed minimum sale prices are not disclosed). Sotheby’s is expecting to reap more than $60 million from just two adjudications: Paul CÉZANNE’s Les Pommes (1889, 38.5 cm x 46 cm, est. $25m – $35m.) and Amedeo MODIGLIANI’s L’Amazone (est. $20m – $30m). The next day (8 May), Sotheby’s will be offering three charcoal studies for L’Amazone with low estimates between $70,000 and $100,000.

The following week, Yves KLEIN, Francis BACON, Gerhard RICHTER, Jean-Michel BASQUIAT, Barnett NEWMAN, Jackson POLLOCK, Clyfford STILL, Mark ROTHKO, Cy TWOMBLY, Jeff KOONS and Roy LICHTENSTEIN will all be chasing eight-digit results.
Here again, a number of the works are carrying price guarantees, including a major work by Roy Lichtenstein: Woman with flowered hat. In fact, the price for this work remains shrouded in mystery and even Christie’s has decided not to post an estimate (sale on 5 May 2013). The auctioneer clearly hopes to sign a new record for the artist and one that beats the excellent new Lichtenstein record that Sotheby’s set last year when his Sleeping girl (1964) reached its high estimate of $40 million on 9 May 2012. The work offered this year by Christie’s is a 1963 “Picassoan” work from a series of four paintings based on Picasso portraits of women, three of which are already in prestigious hand: Femme au chapeau (1962 ) in a private collection, Femme d’Alger (1963) in the Eli and Edyth Broad collection, and Femme dans un fauteuil (1963) at the National Gallery of Berlin.

Lichtenstein’s price index has risen 300% over the past decade and the artist still has upside potential since he has not yet reached Andy Warhol’s heights. In addition to Pop Art, Christie’s and Sotheby’s are offering a number of key works from the American Abstract Expressionist movement, a niche whose price range is growing rapidly, as we saw with the spectacular results achieved in 2012.

The promise of American abstract expressionism

Among the masterpieces of the New York sessions, Barnett NEWMAN’s monumental canvas Onement VI is expected to fetch between $30 and $40 million on May 14 at Sotheby’s.
The strengths of this Newman painting are multiple: the work, majestic and well-dated (1953) was given by the artist to his wife Annalée and susbsequently acquired by the Weisman collection in 1961. It is also a very rare piece because the other five paintings in the series are no longer on the market: four are in museum collections (Museum of Modern Art in New York, Wadsworth Atheneum in Hatford, Allen Memorial Art Museum in Ohio) and the last one (Ornment V, 1952, 152.4 cm x 96.5 cm) that went to auction signed the artist’s current record of $20 million ($5m above its high estimate at Christie’s on 8 May 2012).

Newman’s Onement VI will be competing for the auction limelight with Jackson POLLOCK’s Number 19 (1948) being offered for $25m – $35m at Christie’s the following day (15 May).

Christie’s is indeed offering a prestigious selection of Abstract Expressionist works by Jackson POLLOCK, Clyfford STILL, Willem DE KOONING, Mark ROTHKO, Franz KLINE, Philip GUSTON and Joan MITCHELL. It is focusing on “the” key historical movement of Contemporary American art and one of the most profitable segments of the market… the same one that allowed it, on May 2012, to generate $118 million from three lots (Mark ROTHKO, Jackson POLLOCK and Barnett NEWMAN). Indeed, Christie’s best-ever result for a Post-War work in the West was generated by a work of American Abstract Expressionism. On 8 May 2012 it sold Mark Rothko’s Orange, Red, Yellow at the Rockefeller Center for $77.5 million.

While none of this year’s estimates suggests such a high score, these prestige sales are nevertheless capable of producing major surprises: last year the Rothko result for Orange, Red, Yellow was $32.5 million above its high estimate…!