in other words

Everything you ever wanted to know about the art market but didn't know who to ask
Special Issue: Auction Analysis

Spotlight on Specific Artists’ Markets

Kerry James Marshall, Past Times (1997) sold for $21.1m at Sotheby's May 2018 contemporary evening sale. Courtesy Sotheby's

BY Charlotte Burns
executive editor of In Other Words

In Analysis

Kerry James Marshall

A painting by the 62-year old Kerry James Marshall, Past Times (1997), flew past its $8m to $12m estimate to sell for $21.1m at Sotheby’s—almost 900 times the $25,000 that its consignor, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, paid for it two decades ago.

The sale, reportedly to rapper and entrepreneur Sean Combs, aka P. Diddy, caused the assembled crowd to burst into applause. Hip-hop star Swizz Beatz who was seated in the front row, turned to the press standing by to simply say: “Wow.”

The previous record was set last season for the small work Still Life with Wedding Portrait (2015), which sparked a bidding war at Christie’s, where it sold for $5m (est. $1m-$1.5m).

There were two smaller works in last week’s evening sales: at Phillips, Untitled (Blanket Couple) from 2014 sold for $4.3m against a pre-sale estimate of $3.5m to $5.5m—just $700,000 below the previous record. And at Christie’s, You Must Suffer if You Want to be Beautiful (1991) sold for $2.3m (est. $2m-$3m). A further five works in Sotheby’s day sales sold well, making a combined $5.6m—including $2.7m for a 29” square portrait, Lost Boys: AKA Black Al (1993), which had been estimated between $500,000 to $700,000.

Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Blanket Couple) (2014). Courtesy Phillips

Demand for the artist has been steadily building over the past few years: a work by Marshall first broke the $1m boundary at auction in 2014 when Vignette (2003) sold at a Christie’s day sale for $1m (est, $400,000-$600,000).

On the private market, there has been real appetite for supply—which has been carefully controlled by Marshall’s long-term dealer Jack Shainman, who now represents the artist together with David Zwirner Gallery. Museums have been getting first picks of the choice works, which has made more ravenous the appetites of private collectors—which is resulting in record auction prices.

Equally, more popular and critical attention was focused on the artist since the major survey exhibition “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry”, which toured from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago to the Met Breuer, New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles from April 2016 to July 2017. The record-setting work, Past Times, was included in the exhibition.

Richard Diebenkorn

In a highly unusual move, 13 works by Richard Diebenkorn were offered in one single auction at Christie’s. Ordinarily, it would be suicide to offer so many works by a somewhat niche artist but here, with works of a consistently good quality, they all sold at respectable prices.

There were 12 works to benefit the Donald and Barbara Zucker Family Foundation, which made a combined $43m. The works covered such a wide range of work by the artist, and the success of one buttressed the others. It made tangible the breadth of an artist who had previously been subject to a narrow focus in the evening sales. The Zucker works ranged from gouache landscapes, cityscapes and abstracts dating from the 1950s and 1980s; to nudes, still lifes, cityscapes and abstracts painted in oil on canvas and dating from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s; paper abstracts from the 1990s; and the highest valued work, Ocean Park #126 (1984), which set a new artist record when it sold for $23.9m (est. $16m-$20m).

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #126 (1984) Photo © 2018 Christie’s Images

Coming later in the sale, Untitled (1963-64), from the collection of Joan and Preston Robert Tisch, which sold above its $3m high estimate for $4.7m. And, the previous evening at Sotheby’s, the 1972 painting Ocean Park #55 sold for $11m against a presale estimate of $7m to $10m. A further 12 works by Diebenkorns were offered during Christie’s day sales, of which 11 sold for a total $3.1m.

Overall, the final figure for the 26 works by Diebenkorn was $61.4m. Considering the amount of material on the market at once, this can be considered a real success.

Cecily Brown

The artist Cecily Brown first came to prominence in the early 2000s and was subject to much media attention, including an appearance on the Charlie Rose show. Signed by Gagosian gallery, prices for her romantic, sensual and large paintings shot up into the six-figure realm.

In recent years her work has been back in the spotlight. Brown left Gagosian in around 2015 with the intention of showing work in new contexts and her exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York last October showed an artist in full command of her skills and ambition.

Demand for her work has increased over the past year: seven of the top ten auction results have been set since 2017 and for fairly consistent sums, ranging between $1.1m to the previous record of $2.4m for The Girl Who Had Everything (1998) at Sotheby’s London last June.

Cecily Brown, Suddenly Last Summer (1999) © Cecily Brown. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York Photo credit: Sotheby’s

Last week, her market took a big leap with the $6.8m sale of Suddenly Last Summer (1999), estimated at $1.8m to $2.5m. Placed as the 43rd lot in a long sale at Sotheby’s, it was nonetheless chased by six bidders—a very rare sight at the end of an auction, testament to the strong demand for her work.

Meanwhile, two works in the day sales also outperformed expectations. Girl Trouble (1999) sold at Christie’s for $1.8m (est. $700,000-$1m) and Madrepora (Alluvial) (2017) sold at Sotheby’s for $131,250 (est. $60,000-$80,000). The success of works from a range of dates and at different prices suggests depth in this market.

George Condo

There has been real movement in the Condo market over the past six months: eight of the top ten auction prices have been made in this six month period, evidence of the speed with which this market is heating up.

This season, there were 18 works by George Condo on offer during the evening and day sales. Of these, 17 sold to make a combined total of $16.9m. The works spanned a wide time frame—from 1987 to 2014 —and came with estimates ranging from $40,000 to $2.8m.

In the evening sales, Phillips sold Red Head (2012) above its $1.2m high estimate for $1.8m and Sotheby’s sold Day of the Idol (2011) over its $2m high estimate for $2.8m. The top price of the week, though, was at Christie’s when Nude and Forms (2014) sold for a record $6.2m (est. $2.2m-$2.8m). The previous record was set in November when a work in a Sotheby’s day sale, Compression IV (2011) vaulted its $1.2m high estimate to sell for $4.1m.

George Condo, Nude and Forms (2014). Art © George Condo/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the artist and Skarstedt, New York and Sprüth Magers, Berlin, London, Los Angeles. Photo © 2018 Christie’s Images Ltd

Christie’s offered 11 works in its day sale with results ranging from spectacular to failure. Two paintings sold around estimate (The Philosopher from 2002 for $348,500 and Choir Girl from 1987 for $56,250); a 2006 painting, Red and Green Composition, failed to sell (est. $700,000-$1m); and a suite of eight sexy drawings from 2008 absolutely flew past their individual $60,000 to $80,000 estimates to sell for a combined $3m.

Sotheby’s offered three works in its day sales: Internal Dialogue (2005) which sold above its $600,000 high estimate for $999,000; Inner Turmoil (2006), which doubled its $300,000 high estimate to sell for $687,000; Little Joe (2004), which went for $435,000 (est. $350,000-$550,000). Meanwhile, Phillips offered one Condo in its day sale: Marc Jacobs (2007), which sold towards the low end of its estimate at $591,000 (est. $500,000-$700,000).

The market is making a big push for Condo to reach a whole new price bracket. One of the fascinating lessons of this round of auctions is that when you contextualize this rapid rise, which places Condo at a new level, we find him on an equal playing field with Mark Bradford and a few steps behind Kerry James Marshall.

David Hockney

A new auction record was made—and then smashed, in the same sale—for David Hockney during Sotheby’s evening auction. The flattened perspective landscape Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica (1990) sold for $28.5m (est. $20m-$30m), besting the $11.7m paid for the work on paper Piscine de Medianoche (Paper Pool 30) (est. $5m-$7m) just ten lots before. The previous record of $11.7m had been set at Sotheby’s in 2016 for Woldgate Woods (2006).

Meanwhile, Christie’s placed a 1995 work by Hockney as its second lot—a sign of the house’s confidence in demand for the painting. Estimated to sell between $2.5m and $3.5m, Antheriums sold for $5.6m after three-way bidding.

Appetite has been rising for work by the British born artist over the past few years. As we reported in “Joy in its Abundance: Freedom and Control in the David Hockney Market” in March last year, private sales have been breaking records: a painting of Hockney’s artist friend Patrick Procktor is believed to have sold for around $25m; a painting of art dealer John Kasmin sold for around $15m; and there has been chatter that Gagosian sold a Hockney in the $30m range.

David Hockney, Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica (1990). Courtesy Sotheby’s

Factors inhibiting the market until now include that Hockney himself is famously disinterested in the market; his dealers have kept tight control on supply, barring discounts and thwarting speculation; and the work—of which there is a lot—ranges in quality. Equally, there was a consensus that early Hockneys (which rarely come to market) were more important than later works.

The date range of the recent records show that tastes are shifting and expanding. In the same way that the market for an exceptional Richter from the 1960s has not been tested in some time, since taste has been focused on the later abstractions—with Hockney, taste is now embracing his more voluptuous works.

Importantly, Hockney’s critical reputation has benefitted from a major touring exhibition of that travelled from Tate Britain, London, to the Centre Pompidou, Paris, and then the Metropolitan Museum last year. It was the first New York retrospective of Hockney’s work in more than 30 years.

*For more analysis, listen to our podcast in which Nicholas Maclean (of London and New York dealership Eykyn Maclean) and Allan Schwartzman (co-founder of AAP), discuss with our host Charlotte Burns (editor of In Other Words), what happened during the auctions: what the surprises were; what trends we can detect; and what’s going to happen next. 

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