November’s prestige sales of Contemporary Art

[04 Nov 2014]


November is the traditional month for the major sales of Impressionist and Contemporary art in New York. Ahead of our analysis of the results of the Impressionist & Modern art sales in a future article, we take a preview of the Post-War and Contemporary masterpieces on sale next week (11 – 13 November, 2014).

At Sotheby’s…

At their evening sale on 11 November Sotheby’s will be offering 79 lots spanning 60 years of Contemporary creation. The sale will be relatively short but packed with the best signatures of American Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and Post-Modernism as well as a handful of highly-regarded ultra-Contemporaries, including Glenn LIGON and Morton Wayne THIEBAUD. The sale is restricted to major collectors and, according to the pre-sale estimates, 81% of the lots should fetch over a million dollars. The most affordable starting at $250,000 and the most expensive expected to fetch around $35 million.
Numerically, Andy WARHOL is still the most represented artist with nine lots, including a rare portrait of Brigitte Bardot. If it reaches its high estimate of $15 million, the portrait of the French actress – with big red lips against a blue background – could add over $5 million to a previous result for a purple background version that fetched $9.4m ($10.6m including fees) at Christie’s in London seven years ago (8 February 2007). Indeed, Warhol’s works just never seem to stop rising in value: a square-format self-portrait (102 cm) that sold for $7.5m two years ago and is now tagged $12 – 18 million (cf. Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) which fetched nearly $7.5m [$8.5m including fees] at Sotheby’s on 22 May 2012).
How much will Warhol’s portrait of Liz Taylor fetch? The estimate for Liz # 3 has not been disclosed, but two similar portraits fetched over $20 million between 2007 and 2011. Warhol and Rothko are the only two artists in the sale with potential to cross the $30 million threshold.

At Christie’s…

In the fierce competition between the two leading auction operators, Christie’s looks likely to beat Sotheby’s on the basis of the announced pre-sale estimates. The firm has 82 lots of which no less than 85% could fetch over a million dollars. It is offering a wider range of prices, with estimates starting at $50,000 and rising to $60 million.
The star of the sale is a major work by Francis BACON. Christie’s is right to capitalize on Bacon because exactly a year ago (12 November 2013) a set of three studies of Lucian Freud fetched $127m (approx. $142.4m including fees), becoming the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction (Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969). That remarkable result allowed Christie’s to post the best auction sales total ever recorded at $609 million. This year the British artist is not represented by a triptych but by a seated figure from his Popes series, Red Cardinal, dated 1960 and measuring 152.8 x 119.5 cm. Eighteen years ago (4 December 1996) this major work – now estimated at $40 to 60 million – fetched $2.3m at Christie’s in London (lot 31), which means it could add fifty million… In any case, the canvas is bound to attract strong bidding from dozens of ardent Bacon collectors around the world.
The Christie’s sale on 12 November also relies heavily on the grand masters of Pop Art with 11 lots by Andy Warhol (including 2 with undisclosed estimates) and 7 by Lichtenstein. Among the Warhols Christie’s is offering a similar self-portrait to its rival, but in its larger format (203 x 203 cm). The estimate is also much higher, at $25-35m.

At Phillips…

On 13 November, Phillips has the last date in the major Contemporary sales with a number of works by established Contemporary artists including Andy WARHOL, Jean-Michel BASQUIAT, Robert RYMAN, Mark ROTHKO, Richard PRINCE and Rudolf STINGEL, but also plenty of newcomers to the premium market including Danh VO, Rebecca QUAYTMAN, Fredrik Værslev, Alex ISRAEL, David OSTROWSKI and Rashid JOHNSON. With 48 lots on offer, Phillip’s sales strategy is not about generating new world records, but rather to offer buyers a mix of reliable and prospective investments.