A SERIES of key consignments at the latest Contemporary art auctions helped lift the mood of the art market in New York.
Despite the jitters on the stock market throughout the week, the
Contemporary series generated an hammer total of $624m (£410.5m)
including day sales, well above the $346.3m (£227.8m) from the
rather disjointed Impressionist
& Modern sales the week before.
Sotheby's evening sale on November 9 took place
after a fall of almost 400 points on the Dow Jones Industrial
Average, with the company's own share price down by around four per
cent across the day's trading.
Nevertheless, the sale made $228m (£182.9m) against a $192m-271m
pre-sale estimate - the highest total at Sotheby's for a
Contemporary art auction since May 2008.
The selling rate ran at 85 per cent (62 of the 73 lots found
buyers), but the main contributing factor to the sale's success was
the performance of the group of four paintings by the American
abstract expressionist Clyfford Still.
They came from the estate of the artist's wife Patricia and were
being sold to help endow the new Clyfford Still Museum in Denver.
The top taker was the large oil on canvas 1949-A-No.1,
which was chased by five bidders and made a record $55m (£36.2m).
Only Bacon, Giacometti, Warhol and Rothko have made more at auction
in the Contemporary sector.
Estimated at $25m-35m and generating a round of applause in the
saleroom, it was knocked down to an anonymous phone bidder and
underbid by New York dealer Chris Eykyn.
Clyfford Still is not an artist who appears regularly at auction
and before this sale the highest price was the $19m (£10.5m) seen
for 1947-R-no.1, which sold at Christie's New York in
This figure was also eclipsed at Sotheby's by
1947-Y-No.2, which made $28m (£18.4m) to a different phone
bidder against a $15m-20m estimate, while the later
PH-1033 from 1976 made $17.5m (£11.5m) and the smaller
PH-351 added another $1.05m (£690,790).
Among the sale's other notable results was the record for
Gerhard Richter made when Abstraktes Bild from 1997 rose
to $18.5m (£12.2m) against a $9m-12m estimate. Selling to another
anonymous telephone bidder, it beat the £9.3m for Kerze
(Candle) seen barely a month ago at Christie's in London and showed
that the German artist's abstract works are keeping pace with his
Another Richter abstract from the same private source was
Gudrun from 1987, which overshot a $5.5m-7.5m estimate and
sold at $16m (£10.5m) - a price which demonstrated the enormous
growth in the artist's commercial standing since it had previously
sold at Sotheby's in London in June 2001 for £500,000.
Christie's evening sale on November 8 achieved
a lesser hammer total but saw a higher selling rate, as 82 of the
91 lots got away (90 per cent) for a $216.3m (£142.3m) hammer
total. This was slightly below the presale estimate of
The sale opened with 26 lots from the collection of computer
programmer Peter Norton which all got away and included a record
$4m (£2.63) for Paul McCarthy's bizarre 1994 sculpture Tomato
The top lot for the sale overall was Roy Lichtenstein's I
Can See the Whole Room...and There's Nobody in It! from 1961,
which made $38.5m (£25.3m) against a $35m-45m estimate.
The oil and graphite on canvas depicting a man looking through a
spy-hole, which had been the subject of a third-party guarantee,
was knocked down to New York dealer Guy Bennett who saw off
underbidding on the phones.
The price just eclipsed the previous record for the artist,
which was the $38m (£25m) made by Ohhh...Alright... at
Christie's New York in November 2010.
While Andy Warhol's Silver Liz from 1963 and Mark
Rothko's White Cloud from 1956 both sold below estimate,
for $14.5m (£9.5m) and $16.5m (£10.9m) respectively, another record
came for Louise Bourgeois' bronze Spider sculpture, which
sold at a US private buyer at $9.5m (£6.25m) against a $4m-6m
Meanwhile, over at Phillips de Pury, the 44-lot
evening sale on November 7 made $61.6m (£40.5m), with 37 of the 44
lots getting away (84%).
The top lot was Cy Twombly's Untitled from 2006, which
made a low-estimate $8m (£5.26m).
£1 = $1.52
By Alex Capon