Christie’s ambitiously titled “One: a Global Sale of the 20th Century” met expectations and more as the four city, four time zone clustered auctions realized $421,941,042.
Only five of the 79 lots offered failed to sell for a slim buy-in rate by lot of six percent.
The total hammer achieved, before the added on fees hit $362 million, comfortably above the $337 million low estimate.
Seven artist records were set during the close to four hour marathon that began in Hong Kong and moved to salesrooms in Paris, London and finally New York, the last stop bearing the richest fruits of the digitally pumped endeavor.
A chunky percentage of the lots offered were backed by financial guarantees, with 35 representing third parties outside Christie’s and two house guarantees.
One of those, a late Philip Guston figurative work, “Fort” from 1979 failed to sell against a $4-6 million estimate and became a spurned property of Christie’s.
But financing aside, it was a stellar, across the pond signal that the global art market is alive and well, apparently flush with enough cash on hand to sweep up a cross-section of sought after artists, starting with the Hong Kong section of ten lots that included Martin Wong’s distressed and tearful “Untitled (Statue of Liberty)” from 1990 that made $638,548 (est. $194,468-324,113) and Takeo Yamaguchi’s 1959 geometric abstraction, “Yellow Quadrangle,” that hit a record $1,961,024 (est. $259,290-388,935) .
Asian bidding proved strong throughout the sale, accounting for 26 percent of the sold lots, and including the otherwise anonymous buyer for the mid-sized but still dazzling Gerhard Richter, “Frost (1)” from 1989 that realized $10,275,764 (est. $6,222,960-8,815,860).
The painting debuted at the artist’s fresh from the studio solo exhibition in New York at the Sperone Westwater Gallery in February 1990.
It was backed by a third party guarantee (where that backer receives a financing fee for the risk taken), as was George Condo’s 82 by 82 inch figurative work, “Force Field” from 2010 that made a record $6,891,135 (est. $2,333,610-3,630,060).
The only disappointment in the Hong Kong leg was the buy-in of Zao Wou-ki’s blazing red, large-scale abstraction, “21.10.63” from 1963 that didn’t get close to the region of its $10 million pre-sale estimate.
The action moved from the Alexander House venue in Hong Kong to Christie’s Paris salesroom and with the portage a change in currency from Hong Kong dollars to Euros, a rather annoying move by Christie’s and one meant to inject a regional flavor to the sales.
That would be fine if they managed to post the bidding increments in various currencies as would be the case for the old style ‘live’ auctions that sported an electronic board that flashed prices in various currencies.
Welcome to the New Normal.
Even so, the Paris leg soldiered on with deft and humor laced auctioneering by Cecile Verdier, the president of Christie’s France.
Of the sixteen lots offered, Jean Dubuffet’s jig-saw like, interlocking composition, “Pourleche Fiston” from 1963 sparked bidding in New York and London, pushing the price to $7,366,539 (est. $3,390,950-5,651,584).
It came to market ‘naked,’ meaning no financial guarantee.
Another French entry, Pierre Soulages densely patterned abstraction, “Peinture 130 x 89cm,25” from 1950 enticed three bidders and made $3,652,522 (est. $2,260,633-3,390,950).
It hailed from a private Australian collection where it has lived since 1953.
Christie’s included some design and even a photograph in the ‘One’ sale, including Chartlotte Perriand’s exotic material laced “En Forme” low table in Manchurian walnut and hinoki cypress from circa 1953 that brought $620,601 (est. $452,127-678,190) and Francois-Xavier Lalanne’s wild beast bar, “Hippopotame 1” from 1998, executed in blue laminated molded polyester resin and brass that waddled to $1,148,677 (est. $904,253-1,356,380).
At one point when the bidding lulled, auctioneer Verdier murmured, “should I sell or should I wait?” and with it, another squeezed out bid.
On the more classic side, what would normally be in an Impressionist & Modern auction setting, Amedeo Modigliani’s early and somber, “Portrait de Maurice Drouard” from 1909 made $5,061,287 (est. $3,956,108-6,216742).
The auction gauntlet (or gavel) moved on to London and the more familiar visage of Jussi Pylkkanen, Christie’s global president and star performer taking on 21 lots and calling out the prices in pound sterling.
Manalo Millares’s expressionist abstraction, “Cuadro 54” from 1959, executed in oil and string on burlap, realized a record $1,371,701 (est. $1,124,100-1,498,800) and Rene Magrittes’ stunning, Surrealist composition, one of the standouts in the cross-category sweepstakes, “L’Arc de Triomphe” from 1962 and depicting a massively leafed tree in hallucinatory detail, roared to $22,373,029 (est. $8,118,500-11,865,500).
The Magritte last sold at auction at Christie’s New York in November 1992 for $1,100,000.
In somewhat of a league of her own, Cecily Brown’s mural scaled oil on linen mix of abstraction and fleshy figuration, “Carnival and Lent” from 2006-08 sold for $6,108,706 (est. $4,996,000-7,494,000).
Of the few, Impressionist era works offered, Camille Pissarro’s urban scene from 1897, “La Place du Havre effet de pluie” and small-scaled at just 13 by 16 ¼ inches, went for $2,276,741 (est. $1,873,500-2,498,000).
It sure felt like the heavy-hitter lots were saved for the final leg of 34 lots in New York, led by auctioneer and specialist Adrien Meyer.
That warming-up tone was set by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Untitled” portrait head from 1982, fiercely executed in oil pastel and wax crayon paper that energized five bidders and went to $4,928,500 (est. $3-5 million) and a few lots later, Frank Stella’s early masterpiece in alkyd on canvas, “Sharpville” from 1962 that brought $11,625,000 (est. $7-9 million).
The 85 -inch square painting of concentric squares and softly colored in shifting shades of black, gray and white came ‘naked’ to market from the storied family collection of Chicagoan Morton G. Neumann.
The title refers to the 1960 massacre of black protesters in South Africa that resulted in the deaths of 69 people.
The big hitters continued with a rare to market work by legendary New York bred AB-Ex era artist Barnett Newman, “Onement V” from 1952 and representing the last of that key series in private hands and that made $30,920,000 (est. $30-40 million). It too came to market without a guarantee, meaning the seller is entitled to the full hammer price & perhaps more. It last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2012 for $22.4 million, representing a healthy return for the seller.
If you can put a price on fame, Pablo Picasso’s, “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘F’) from 1955, certainly counts with its precious pedigree from the Victor Ganz collection and though relatively compact in size at 21 3/8 by 25 5/8 inches, attracted a posse of five bidders and sold for $29,217,500 (est. on request in the region of $25 million).
Inspired by Eugene Delacroix’s 19th century ode to those sequestered women, the series made headlines in the single owner Ganz sale at Christie’s in 1997 and again in May 2015 when “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” from the same year made a record $179,364,992, at the time, the most expensive picture ever to sell at auction.
Other high flyers included Ruth Asawa’s ravishing, hanging sculpture, “Untitled (S.401, Hanging Seven-orbed Continuous Interlocking form, with hanging sculpture” from circa 1953-54 that sailed to a record $5,382,500 (est. $2-4.5 million) and Joan Mitchell’s luscious oil on canvas diptych, “La Grande Vallee VII” from 1983 that brought $14,462,500 (est. $10-15 million).
It now ranks as the second highest Mitchell at auction.
The records continued to fall as Brice Marden’s two-part and color-charged abstraction, “Complements” from 2004-07 and wall sized at 72 by 96 inches, made $30,920,000 (est. $28-35 million) and Wayne Thiebaud’s Pop Art infused “Four Pinball Machines’ from 1962 carom to $19,135,000 (est. $18-25 million).
Both works came backed by a third party guarantee and for the Thiebaud, serves as a sweet slice of birthday cake for the 100 year- old artist.
As a curtain closer, Roy Lichtenstein’s late and deftly sexy, ”Nude with Joyous Painting” from 1994, and executed in oil and magna on canvas while scaled at 70 by 53 inches, attracted another posse of bidders and finally, after a nine minute long battle, went to an Asian collector bidding by telephone for $46,242,500 (unpublished est. in the region of $30 million).
Though not a record (“Nurse” from 1964 sold for $95.3 million at Christie’s New York in November 2015) , the painting is the highest price for a post-1960’s work, nipping at the high heels of his earlier oeuvre.
So how does this ‘New Normal’ look from the vantage point of a seasoned, art market journalist?
Hmmm. The stats looks great and the glass ceiling for seven and eight figure works of art offered on the digital plane is certainly shattered—still, the thrill of a live auction room in a single location is nowhere to be found.
Though arguably shy of looking at this as apples and oranges, Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art sale in New York in May 2019 made $538.9 million for the 51 lots that sold.
“We are very pleased by our performance and results today,” said Guillaume Cerutti, the CEO of Christie’s at post-sale Zoom press conference, “…and all unified by the magic of the technology.”