The 20th Century & Contemporary Art sale in New York on Wednesday afternoon (17 May) marked the highest total for a day sale in Phillips’ history, as well as setting five new records. Amounting to $18,619,250, 81 per cent of the 183 lots on offer were sold. “Today’s auction demonstrates strong demand among collectors for contemporary art as a number of artworks sold for significantly above their high estimates, including works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mark Bradford, Donald Judd, Yayoi Kusama, Louise Nevelson, Tony Cragg, Mark Grotjahn and Lucio Fontana,” said John McCord, head of Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day sale.
The artworks pulling the highest amounts included Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1983 untitled work at $1.45 million, Donald Judd’s 1991 untitled work at $790,000, and Meditation (2008) by Yayoi Kusama for $670,000. “We also set new world records for Julia Wachtel, Anne Collier and Celeste Dupuy-Spencer as our international team did a spectacular job of assembling a thoughtful selection of art across a variety of styles and price points,” continued McCord. “We look forward to our Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art tomorrow night.”
The Postwar & Contemporary Evening art sale at Christie’s New York raked in a total of $448 million, within expectations of $339-462 million following the withdrawal of Willem de Kooning's Untitled II, estimated at $25-35 million. Despite this loss, the sale far exceeded last year’s $318.8 million May sale, but still pales in comparison to 2014 and 2015, which saw $658.5 million and $744.9 million come in respectively.
The highest lot went to Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer (1963) for $47 million. The work depicts Bacon’s long term lover and muse, and the painting itself remained in the collection of writer Roald Dahl until being acquired by French collector Pierre Lambrail.
Behind the Bacon was Basquiat’s La Hara (1981) which surpassed its $22-28 million estimate by achieving just under $35 million following a two-person bidding war, and Andy Warhol’s Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable) (1962) sold on the phone for $27.5 million to Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman of Post-War and Contemporary art for the Americas. The work was last seen at auction in November 2010 at Christie’s New York where it sold for $23.8 million.
This sale had 71 lots on offer, 96 per cent of which were sold. “Judging by sell through rates, this was a significantly better performance than the Impressionist sales," former Sotheby’s Impressionist art head and now private dealer David Norman told artnet News. He did note however that while sales were sound, the mood was subdued in comparison to the more frenzied atmosphere of previous evenings, or as reported, other sales held at other auction houses.
Sotheby’s Postwar & Contemporary Evening art sale takes place in New York this evening, 18 May.