New York sales perk up…



Is the art market recovering? That’s at least the impression given by Sotheby’s impressive $117.1m total revenue from its Contemporary Art sale on 11 November 2009. The figure is way above the auctioneer’s total estimates which were at worst a third and at best a half as much. Christie’s on the other hand was far from posting a “surprise” total with just $63.9m from 39 lots sold the previous day.

Sotheby’s success – 52 lots sold with only 2 buy-ins – was very largely due to the Warhol factor. Among the star lots, Sotheby’s presented a Self-Portrait that emerged from the back of a cupboard where it had been “hiding” for 42 years. Andy WARHOL gave the piece to Cathy Naso, a part-time receptionist at the Factory, in 1967. The high final hammer price of $5.4m for the work was probably due to a mix of factors including its exceptional colours, its anecdotal history and the surprise effect of its discovery. However, the most spectacular bid was submitted for another Warhol entitled 200 One Dollar Bills, a 1962 work reproducing the design of a $1 bill 200 times. Estimated at between $8m and $12m, 200 One Dollar Bills fetched a massive $39m, taking second place on the all-time Warhol auction podium. This result was even more astonishing given that the same painting first changed hands for just $350,000 at Sotheby’s on 11 November 1986!

Other cases of “resale” suggest an improved climate (see table below):

Jean DUBUFFET’s Trinité Champs-Elysées fetched an additional $800,000 since it last appeared at auction just three years ago; however the most reassuring news came from the market for Jeff KOONS whose price index had fallen 49.5% since 2007: on 10 November 2009 Christie’s sold his Large Vase of Flowers for $5m vs. £600,000 in June 2000, and his vacuum cleaner (New Shelton Wet/Dry 5-Gallon, New Hoover Convertible Doubledecke) fetched $2.7m vs. $320,000 in May 2000.

The case of auction resales

Despite a mediocre volume of business, Christie’s posted 3 records for works on paper Brice MARDEN (Untitled with Green, $1.75m), Philip GUSTON (Untitled, $450,000) and Jean-Michel BASQUIAT (Untitled, $2.7m). The latter figure more than doubled Basquiat’s previous auction record of $1.2m for a large untitled paper work set on 22 June 2005 at Sotheby’s in London. Collectors are bidding hard for the best contemporary signatures… Basquiat’s price index rose 120% between these two records.