Ahead of the May sales



Ahead of the major Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art sales in May, collectors have been making their annual pilgrimages to art fairs around the world. During March and April, those interested in Contemporary art have been particularly attracted to the Armory Show, Art Paris, Art Tokyo, Art Brussels, Cige, etc.

The calendar of public sales is traditionally calm before the major May sales in New York, Hong Kong and Paris. On 19 March 2010, Phillips de Pury & Company orchestrated an alluring sale on the theme of Sex as part of its series of thematic sales that it has been organising since September 2009. However, the overall result was somewhat lacklustre with just 69% of lots sold (221 lots offered) and a low overall result compared with forecasts (£1m vs. £1.8m forecast).
Other than the numerous photographs signed Jan SAUDEK, Spencer TUNICK, Nobuyoshi ARAKI, Vanessa BEECROFT, Nan GOLDIN, Joel-Peter WITKIN or Helmut NEWTON, often selling for between £1,500 and £5,000, there were a number of very strong results, particularly for Allen JONES. His painting Soft Tread (a profile view of a woman’s legs and bottom with gartered and laced hosiery and an impossibly high stiletto-heeled shoe) fetched £300,000 ($458,220) demolishing its high estimate of £80,000. Jack PIERSON’s three-letter sculpture SEXsold for £59,000 ($90,000), adding £27,400 vs. its previous hammer price on 16 November 2008 at Christie’s in New York. The French artist Philippe PASQUA was also present. His enormous paintings of naked men seduce less than his women and his virile Caphi, which fetched £26,000 ($39,712) on 19 March, did not even reach its low estimate, whereas his scantily clad Marie fetched £70,000 ($109,410) on 12 February 2010.

Henceforward, this thematic rendezvous will be an annual event to celebrate the arrival of spring. Christie’s and Sotheby’s opened the season in New York ten days before Phillips de Pury & Company. Both firms relied on Andy Warhol and the results were, again, excellent. At Sotheby’s on 9 March, his painting Self Defense fetched $420,000 against an estimate of $250,000-$350,000, and at Christie’s on 11 March, Two Jackies sold for $446,500, more than ten times the lower estimate in the published range of $40,000 – $60,000! A large mixed technique by Keith HARING also acquired another zero vs. its estimate when his Untitled, (135,8 x 191,1 cm), fetched $220,900.

Other surprises were generated by Cindy SHERMAN’s photographs. His large Untitled Film Still #63 (1980, 3 copies) sold at Sotheby’s on 9 March for $60,000 more than its high estimate at $180,000. In 2001, the same work fetched $42,000 at Christie’s (18/05/2001). Two days later another of his works, Untitled #194 (which fetched $10,000 in 1994), changed hands for $98,500. Other good results included a Robert MOTHERWELL oil on canvas, Open # 94, which fetched $185,000 on 9 March (a similar work estimated at $35,000 failed to sell at the end of the 1990s), a record for an acrylic work by Richard Joseph ANUSZKIEWICZ, Incarnadine de Richard Joseph ANUSZKIEWICZ, which fetched double its estimate at $70,000, and a record for a work on paper by Yayoi KUSAMARepetitive-Vision which reached a remarkable $818,500 vs. an estimated range of $100,000 – $150,000 at Christie’s. With a top result of $314,500 forUntited (Invisible Man) , (estimated $50,000 – $70,000), Glenn LIGON substantially upped his previous record from November 2007 when his Silver Just Us #5 sold for $90,000 at Christie’s.Morton Wayne THIEBAUD’s Valley River painting fetched $842,500, four times its low estimate. Although not a record, it was an encouraging sign for the artist’s price index which has contracted sharply (-58%) since 2008.

The May sales should produce substantially better results. The star lots at the Sotheby’s New York sale will be Bouquet pour le 14 juillet 1919 by Matisse, estimated at between 18 and 25 million dollars (5 May), and a late self-portrait by Andy Warhol. This giant work (274 x 274 cm) shows Andy WARHOL’s face against a black background and is estimated at 10 to 15 million dollars (12 May). Even more spectacular, Christie’s has announced a masterpiece from Pablo PICASSO’s blue period, Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto (1903), as the star lot of its Impressionist & Modern sale on 23 June 2010 in London. Staunch optimism, the credo of auction houses, is also reflected in the Art Market Confidence Index (AMCI) which gained 8 points between 27 March and 2 April 2010.