New York: a city with a real appetite for art



This Tuesday, May 12, is the kick-off date for New York’s major spring sales of Contemporary and Post-War Art. Although Christie’s slipped a few works from the second half of the 20th century into its superb sale last night Looking forward to the past, the evenings dedicated exclusively to these two periods officially start today.

Artprice, world leader in Art Market information, provides a brief overview of these sales and their contents!

Sotheby’s has first shot at the market on May 12, followed by Christie’s on 13th and Phillips on 14th. The three most prestigious Anglo-Saxon auction auction operators will be offering a total of 222 marvels of Contemporary art in three consecutive New York evening sales, plus a further 911 lots in parallel day sales. In short… a veritable downpour of masterpieces to quench the thirst of collectors from all over the world intent on acquiring one or more works by the world’s most prestigious signatures and a small piece of history to boot!

The first thing you notice when browsing the catalogs is the ubiquity of the same signatures, leaving no doubt as to which artists are selling well today! There are 19 works by Andy Warhol, 9 by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 7 by Christopher Wool, 6 by Jeff Koons, 6 by de Kooning and 4 by Rothko (whose works are nowadays extremely rare on the market). Clearly New York loves New York artists and, above all, those who shone through Pop Art.

At Sotheby’s the star of the evening is a 1962 canvas entitled The ring (engagement) by Roy LICHTENSTEIN, one of Pop Art’s leading lights. Estimated at $45m, the work is not expected to beat the artist’s record set by Woman with Flowered Hat (1963) which fetched $50m ($56m incl. fees) on May 15, 2013 at Christie’s. The ring was last purchased for $2m (plus $202,500 in fees) in November 1997 at Sotheby’s NY. In less than twenty years, the work has therefore gained enormously in value.

At Christie’s there are 2 smaller works by Lichtenstein as well as 2 by Rauschenberg, 2 by Jasper Johns and 2 by Wayne Thiebaud! In fact practically all the major artists associated with Pop Art are represented in these two sales.

But the similarity between the catalogs of the two main auction rivals does not stop at Pop Art. In fact it goes much further… almost the whole way through the catalogs! Each is offering works by Pollock, Kusama, Bacon, Murakami, etc… In fact, we can legitimately ask what is the difference between the two sales… between what Christie’s is offering and what Sotheby’s is offering.

In recent years, the former has taken a significant lead in sales of Contemporary and Post-War Art. In 2014, Christie’s twice broke the sales total record; the first time in May with $657 m (excluding fees) and then again in November with a total of $752m. Meanwhile its rival has done better in the fields of Impressionist and Modern Art.

But this year Christie’s has hit a home run with its Looking forward to the past sale which brought together, among others, a premium quality work by Picasso, Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) and a superb Giacometti sculpture, L’homme au doigt. Meanwhile, Sotheby’s did not really have anything comparable to offer and is probably feeling somewhat under pressure. Much more reasonable than his British rival, Sotheby’s has of course organized some magnificent sales, but its exceptional hammer results are becoming increasingly few and far between.

On May 14 the star works at Phillips’ evening sale are undoubtedly Francis Bacon’s Seated Woman (1961) and Brice Marden’s Elements (Hydra) painted between 1999 and 2001. Estimated $8-12m, the latter could set a new record for the American artist.

Phillips does not pretend to compete with its two older sisters (at least not yet), but its selection of works is strong and representative of the market’s most appreciated signatures in recent years. In the 72 lots there are 4 works by Ed Ruscha, 3 sculptures by Chamberlain, 3 canvases of Rudolf Stingel, 2 photographs by Andreas Gursky and two paintings by Christopher Wool, decidedly the most fashionable Contemporary artist at the moment.

All the artists listed in this article: