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in other words

Everything you ever wanted to know about the art market but didn't know who to ask
25 May 2017
Special Issue: Auction Analysis

Articles in This Issue

Introduction to the Auction Analysis

Our Take on the May 2017 Sales

Photo credit: Alamy

BY Allan Schwartzman
publisher of In Other Words, co-founder of AAP & chairman of Sotheby's Global Fine Arts

In Allan's Intro

*This article is part of our special auction report, which you can find here

I don’t drink soda much nowadays, but when I do, I tend to choose Coke. When I am abroad, though, where the recipes differ, a Pepsi can taste awfully good—pretty much like a New York Coke (or, even better, a Brazilian or Italian Coke). So, while I’ve enjoyed Pepsi from time to time, when given a choice I’ll always go for Coca-Cola. 

The competition between Coke and Pepsi must be fierce. After all, they are everywhere and battling for market dominance. But I cannot believe that their rivalry is nearly as brutal as that between the auction houses.

This is not news to many.  The media became increasingly interested in the art market as prices began spiraling, focusing their reporting principally on the amount of money spent and on the accelerating competition between Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Analysis of taste and value were eclipsed by headline stories about winners and losers.

What has been eroded along the way is an understanding that art and its market could be about connoisseurship and artistic achievement; that there could be more than one winner; that a lower price for a particular work by an artist does not necessarily equate to a loss of their overall importance; that artistic significance is measured by so many more criteria than those applied to other markets. The story is far more complex. Indeed, sometimes the biggest prices do not equal the greatest gains, much as the collector who spends the most doesn’t necessarily get the best collection, though they may buy the appearance of success.

But, it has made for good copy and more clicks, even as the increased focus on winners and losers, on the newly anointed and the quickly forgotten, has generated anxiety and uncertainty for seasoned professionals. It has unwittingly fuelled ugly behaviors and sharpened the teeth of vitriol in the ever-competitive world of who gets what to sell and who has the ear of those who buy.

This newsletter is the first time we will analyze the auctions. Our intention is to do so without favor or fanfare, instead hoping to provide insights into broad market trends and specific artist’s markets. I come to this as a former writer whose job included analyzing the market by focusing on the art (which naturally led to my work as an advisor). My co-writer Charlotte Burns was formerly the art market editor at The Art Newspaper and brings her own journalistic insights, ones which I greatly respect. 

It seemed to go unrecognized, or at least unreported, that several major media outlets who have been reporting on the art market for every round of auctions, such as The New York Times and Bloomberg, did not run daily post-sale reports last week, that only the record-setting price of $110m bought them a stay. I certainly hope this is not a sign of eviction. 

There is much to report. There were numerous occasions last week when spirited bidding led to meaningful records being set. A beautiful patinated bronze Brancusi head from 1913 was sought after by five bidders at Christie’s. At Sotheby’s, the market for the first time declared a masterpiece by a painter who emerged in the 1980s, a black artist from an immigrant family that exceeded the auction records of any American artist, even his hero, Andy Warhol. And at Phillips, a new $28.8m record was set for a painting by Peter Doig.  This is a business that is not simply—or even—a game of a winner and a loser.


Step Right Up!

The Circus, Which Has Inspired Artists For Centuries, Is Closing

Fernand Pelez, Grimaces and Misery-The Saltimbanques (1888)

BY Molly Ott Ambler
senior vice president and senior specialist of Impressionist & Modern Art at Sotheby's

In Other Insights

The circus is in town! But not for much longer: the fascinating exhibition “Seurat’s Circus Sideshow” at the Metropolitan Museum is about to close (29 May). Already gone, alas, is the world-famous Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which folded up its big tent for the final time on Sunday—after 146 years of continuous operation.

Today we scarcely remember the centrality of the circus to our culture—a form of mass entertainment before television. Circuses heralded a world of wonder, bringing animals and people from the Earth’s four corners to perform impossible feats for audiences in small towns.

George Seurat, Circus Sideshow (Parade de Cirque (1887-88). Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Free teaser sideshows were staged to entice people to buy tickets for the main event. One such was the Gingerbread Fair at the Corvi Circus, held annually in a working-class district in Paris for three weeks after Easter Sunday in the 1880s. The French Neo-Impressionist Georges Seurat saw the troupe in 1887 and was inspired to create his first work focusing on popular culture, Circus Sideshow (Parade de cirque) (1887-88), a painting that was also his first nocturnal scene. First shown in the Salon des Indépendants in 1888, it is now the star of the Met exhibition, hung alongside work by others artists from the 1840s through the 20th century and period musical instruments.

Circuses were historically one of the few places where high and low culture met, and the exhibition reminds us how artists charted the contours of that fragmented society. Circus-themed novels, such as Les Frères Zemganno (1879) by Edmond de Goncourt, and popular prints from the 1880s indicate that by Seurat’s time many artists were focusing on the anxieties of the performers (while still grappling with the aesthetic challenge of depicting the spectacle of performers bathed in light and astonished audiences sinking in shadow).

Honoré Daumier, The Sideshow (La Parade) (1865-66). Private collection. Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Honoré Daumier’s works command particular attention at the Met. He focuses on the performers, particularly the saltimbanques or clowns—figures of merriment to the crowd but shown by Daumier enveloped in melancholy. There is market demand for these thematic Daumier works, when they come up for sale: in 2013, Aguttes sold Quel spectacle d’horreur (1864-65) for €550,000—far above its €40,000 low estimate. Back in 1995, La parade (1865), sold for $1.2m at Sotheby’s against a presale estimate of $600,000-$800,000.

One of the standout works in the Met show (which has been co-organized by the endlessly inventive Susan Alyson Stein, Engelhard Curator of 19th-Century European Painting at the Met, together with Richard Thomson, Watson Gordon Professor of Fine Art at the University of Edinburgh) is the monumental oil by Fernand Pelez called Grimaces et misères—les saltimbanques (1888). In the work—which is more than 20 feet long—the moods of each life-sized performer are portrayed in detail, from the exhausted acrobatic children on the left to the central figures of a haughty dwarf and clown caught mid-song, to the sagging musicians on the right. Sorrow, despair and fatigue lie beneath the facepaint. (A study for the final mural sold in 2011 for $494,500, more than double its $200,000 low estimate, at Sotheby’s.)

Alexander Calder, Calder’s Circus (1926-31). Whitney Museum, NY © 2017 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Beyond the exhibition, artists such as Alexander Calder were fascinated by the Big Top. In Calder’s Circus (1926-31), now in the Whitney’s collection, the artist choreographed a group of ingeniously crafted wire performers, animals and clowns and narrated a film: one of my most vivid childhood memories is of watching it. Circus imagery permeates many of Calder’s bright colorful gouaches, too, such as Profils (1976), sold by Skinner in January for $147,000 (est. $70,000-$90,000).

Other Modern masters to take on the subject include Picasso, who elevated the saltimbanques to the status of religious icons when painting them in his Rose Period, and who returned to the imagery later in his career. Many of Picasso’s harlequin works have come to auction, from Famille d’arlequin (1905), which sold in 2007 for $9.8m (est. $6m-$8m) at Sotheby’s to Les saltimbanques (1954), for $425,000 (est. $180,000-$250,000) in May 2015 at Christie’s.

I have never seen as many children in Sotheby’s galleries as when we showed Marc Chagall’s Le Grand Cirque (1956) a large painting that sold in 2007 for $13.7m (est. $8m to $12m). Chagall’s circus scenes continue to gain traction in the marketplace: Christie’s sold Les trois acrobates (1926) for $13m in 2013 (est. $6m-$9m), for example.

Henri Matisse was deeply inspired by the circus, including the French word cirque, dancing figures and a sword swallower as some of the signature images in his cut-outs series from the 1940s as well as the highly desirable pochoir plates for his artist’s book Jazz, which followed the cut-outs in 1947. Christie’s sold a set of 20 of the latter from the collection of Sting in 2016 for $739,000 (est. $348,000-$487,000). Such complete sets are rare, and it is even less common for individual cut-out compositions to come to market, such as Arabesques noires et violettes sur un fond orange (1947), sold by Christie’s in 2013 for $1.1m (est. $1m-$1.5m).

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #420 (2004). Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Though fewer in number, several prominent contemporary artists have taken a cue from the circus: currently on show at Mnuchin Gallery is “Once Upon a Time, 1981-2011” (until 10 June), an exhibition of photographs by Cindy Sherman that includes Untitled #420 (2004), a diptych of Sherman as both male and female clown balloon-artists, encompassed by color and melancholy.

Now supplanted by popular media, the circus briefly permeated it. Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) set in Ringling Brothers, won Best Picture and Best Story at the 1953 Academy Awards. And Federico Fellini’s masterpiece, La Strada (1954), which tells the story of an itinerant strongman and clown, won the first Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1957.

Many of us fell in love with Dumbo from the Disney movies as children whose parents read to us stories about running away to be in the circus, from Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline and the Gypsies, to Dr Seuss’s If I Ran the Circus. It turns out that ours is probably the last generation to have that opportunity.

Ringling Bros. poster (1899). Photo credit: Niday Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo

Our Analysis of the Auctions

Artoon by Pablo Helguera

BY Charlotte Burns
executive editor of In Other Words

AND Allan Schwartzman
publisher of In Other Words, co-founder of AAP & chairman of Sotheby's Global Fine Arts

In Analysis

For our first auction analysis, we have written a series of short articles:

—A report on the Impressionist and Modern auctions, here

—A report on the Contemporary auctions, here

—Insights into specific artists’ markets, here

—A list of the records made in the evening sales across the three houses, here

—A list of the records made in the day sales, here





Impressionist and Modern

Shifts in Supply and Taste

Constantin Brancusi, La muse endormie (1913). Photo credit: Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

BY Charlotte Burns
executive editor of In Other Words

AND Allan Schwartzman
publisher of In Other Words, co-founder of AAP & chairman of Sotheby's Global Fine Arts

In Analysis

*This article is part of our special auction report, which you can find here

The sales suggested a swing in taste from Impressionism to Modernism and a new focus on sculpture over painting. The reality is a little different.

Tastes would appear to be changing somewhat, but in actuality supply is the main issue. Although it wasn’t visible last week due to the offerings, there is real strength and demand for top-tier Impressionist works: had there been a great example on the block, it likely would have made a record. But both private dealers and auction specialists say these A-grade works are increasingly difficult to source.

Over the past decade, there has been an unprecedented period of buying by major players, particularly from nations and financial businesses of new wealth, which has impacted both supply (there are fewer works available now and many of these buyers only resell occasionally. Several are instead forming their own museums) and demand (these collectors are still buying—but only the best).

As supply decreases, competition for material is more acute, too: many ex-auction people have opened their own private businesses in the same time period, so there are more swimmers paddling in a smaller pool.

The auction offerings—and results—reflect the fact that it is easier to source quality Modern works than Impressionist. Works that sold well weren’t necessarily the pretty Impressionist pictures of auctions past but more intellectual Modern ones: for example, Braque’s Le Guéridon (1911) was chased by three bidders and hammered over estimate at $8.8m ($10.1m with fees, est. $4m-$6m) while two bidders pushed the price for Kandinsky’s Oben und links (1925) to $7.2m hammer ($8.3m with fees, est. $5m-$7m), both at Christie’s. There were four bidders for Malevich’s Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection (1915) at Sotheby’s, which hammered for $18.6m ($21.2m with fees, est $12m-$18m).


Max Ernst, Le Roi jouant avec la reine (1944; cast c.1950-59). Courtesy Sotheby’s

Sculptures—especially early 20th-century works—were popular too, again a function of supply and tastes shifting together. Brancusi’s La muse endormie (1913), a beautiful patinated bronze with gold leaf, sparked a nine-minute bidding war at Christie’s. Five people vied for the work, which hammered at $51m—a record for the artist—to advisor Tobias Meyer ($57.4m with fees, est. $25m-$35m). Meanwhile, seven bidders chased Max Ernst’s fantastic Surrealist sculpture Le Roi jouant avec la reine (1944), referring to dreams and chess, which hammered at Sotheby’s at $13.7m ($16m with fees, est. $4m-$6m), a record for the artist.

The longstanding belief that sculpture is less desirable than painting because it is typically less unique has been changing, especially since 2010, which was a banner year for sculpture sales. Giacometti’s L’homme qui marche I (1960) became, briefly, the most expensive work ever sold at auction when it sold for $104.3m at Sotheby’s. The work was cast in an edition of six with four artist proofs, and the fact that most of the others from the edition were already in museums or private collections and unlikely to come to market helped provide a meaningful context for this work and, paradoxically, its rarity.

The appetite for sculpture has been growing over the past few years but taste is of course prompted by supply: now that great paintings are harder to come by, sculptures that are well-estimated look more attractive and sell well, as we saw last week. Equally, collectors are recognizing that sculpture offers real value in relation to painting (and that verifiable masterpieces remain available). With this realisation, we are seeing higher prices. 

—For insights into specific artists’ markets, click here

Postwar and Contemporary

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (1982) © 2017 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS. Courtesy Sotheby's

BY Charlotte Burns
executive editor of In Other Words

AND Allan Schwartzman
publisher of In Other Words, co-founder of AAP & chairman of Sotheby's Global Fine Arts

In Analysis

*This article is part of our special auction report, which you can find here

First, the figures: More than $1bn was spent during the Postwar and Contemporary auctions last week, figures that were up on November’s $815m total and May 2016’s $830m total —though short of the $1.6bn spent in May 2015. 

While these weren’t the runaway sales of years past, the results were substantial—all during a week in which Wall Street took a beating. The power was really with the collectors, as belied by the bidding. On some major lots, bidding was thin: there were several examples of big prices being made on just one paddle. Yet, elsewhere, works were pursued aggressively—sometimes up to eight paddles deep, and regularly around three or four bidders. This suggests that buyers are aware of what they want, and what price they’re willing to pay. 


Collectors had an abundance of choice, from Tefaf New York Spring and Frieze New York art fairs to a jam-packed week of auctions that included Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art as well as a major jewellery sale in Geneva—events that used to be spread out over several weeks. In the event, buyers were focused and choosy but not, apparently, overwhelmed by the supply.

Brand identities

After years of battling over (often unprofitable) deals for the sake of perceived market share, it was more important this season than ever to project strength. After decades of relative stability, there are newly configured teams at each auction house—from chief execs through to specialists and backroom staff.

The auction houses took distinct approaches to crafting their brand message. Christie’s focused on size, staging the largest Post-war and Contemporary sale in terms of volume (70 lots) and value ($448m) on 17 May. “If we needed the proof of the strength of Christie’s, we have it. If needed the proof of the strength of our teams, we have it,” said its new CEO Guillaume Cerutti at the post-sale press conference.

Sotheby’s staged a smaller Contemporary sale (50 lots), with the total ($319.2m) anchored by Basquiat’s record-breaking 1982 Untitled ($110.5m). “We need to have a sale that obviously is a reasonable size, but is the most profitable sale that we can have,” said Sotheby’s COO Adam Chinn in a conference call to shareholders, emphasizing a shift in concentration from market share to profit margins.

Phillips wanted to establish itself as a contender and staged a “white-glove” sale that was 100% sold after three lots were withdrawn. The sale (40 lots, total $110.3m) showed that the house’s longstanding focus on emerging artists has shifted: none of the artists whose works were included in the auction were younger than 40 years old.

Rediscovering the 1980s

Robert Gober, Untitled (1985). Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2017

This is not a frothy period of focusing on the new, but rather one in which collectors are finding value in earlier works or periods. One notable trend was the renewed favor with which work from the 1980s is being received. Artists of this generation have been the subject of recent exhibitions (“Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s” at the Whitney) and articles (“These ’80s Artists Are More Important Than Ever” in T, the New York Times’ style magazine) and now, a market reassessment.

The 1980s were a period in which the noisy market for contemporary art as we now know it developed. Its steroidal growth then served only to amplify the presence of the artists emerging. Many of them went on to suffer a backlash in the 1990s, but their reputations and markets are now being reappraised.

David Salle, Footmen (1986). Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd.

A new auction record was set last week for David Salle, part of the Pictures Generation (and sometimes contributor to In Other Words) when Footmen (1986) sold for $480,000 ($583,500 with fees, est. $250,000–$350,000) to Peter Brant at Christie’s, part of the Spiegel Collection. Another Pictures Generation artist, Louise Lawler, is only now receiving her first New York museum show (“Louise Lawler: Why Pictures Now”, at MoMA until 30 July). Her La Lecture, 1924, Femme au Livre, 1924, Positioned together, Tous les Deux, ensemble, New York (1985) was the first lot of Christie’s evening sale, hammering at $140,000 ($175,000 with fees, est. $70,000-$90,000) to become her fourth most expensive work at auction. Meanwhile, Eric Fischl’s sex-themed The Visit II (1981) sold for a strong price, hammering at $800,000 ($967,500 with fees, est. $600-$800,000), also part of the Spiegel sale. 

Julian Schnabel, Hamid in Alcheringa (1982). Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2017

Yet to be announced, a major exhibition presenting Julian Schnabel’s paintings in unusual settings, scheduled to open next March at the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. The artist, whose oil on velvet painting Hamid in Alcheringa (1983) hammered at $320,000 at Christie’s ($391,000 with fees, est. $200,000-$300,000), will react to specific sites both inside and outside the building, where three or four bodies of his works will be shown. 

Keith Haring, Untitled (1982). Courtesy Sotheby’s

What gets lost in the retelling is how diverse the practices of artists working in the 1980s were. Keith Haring, whose work fused graffiti art and Pop imagery with gay culture and political activism, is one such example. His market found new heights last week when the 1982 Untitled painted tarpaulin set a new record for the artist when it hammered for $5.7m at Sotheby’s ($6.5m with fees, est. $4m-$6m).

Operating in his own artistic wheelhouse, Robert Gober was the subject of a major museum survey at MoMA in 2014-15 (“Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor”). Critically adored, his market has long been under the radar. Last week, a new record was set when Untitled, an overly large plaster sink from 1985, hammered at $4.5m at Christie’s ($5.3m with fees, est. $3.5m-$5.5m).

And of course, there is Jean-Michel Basquiat. He became the most expensive American artist ever to sell at auction with the record-breaking Untitled (1982) at Sotheby’s. The painting—a gobstopper—sold after more than ten minutes of bidding for $98m hammer ($110.5m with fees, est. in excess of $60m) to the Japanese e-commerce billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. The sale of this 1982 painting unseating Basquiat’s hero Andy Warhol, whose Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) (1963) at Sotheby’s New York in November 2013 set a then-record of $105m.

Further Afield

The value of work from other periods and by different artists is being reassessed, too. Robert Indiana’s 24” square Love (1969) made a record price for a work of its size and became the fifth most expensive work of the artist at auction when it hammered for $1.7m ($2.1m with fees, est. $500,000-$700,000) at Sotheby’s. An important, undervalued and often reclusive artist, there is perhaps no more central Pop icon of the 1960s than the Love image. Less than two years ago, a much larger 71” Love from 1967 sold for only a fraction more at $2.4m, so this recent price suggests a leap in value.

From further ashore, a record was set for Takeo Yamaguchi when Yellow Eyes (1959) became the most expensive work by the Japanese artist at auction, soaring past estimates to hammer at $780,000 ($948,500 with fees, est. $200,000-$300,000) at Sotheby’s. This key artist in the history of postwar Japanese abstraction had been little known outside of Japan, so this success in a major evening sale in New York suggests increasing interest in lesser-known but critically important artists. 

—For our Impressionist and Modern report, click here

Insights into Specific Artists’ Markets

Wolfgang Tillmans, Freischwimmer 123 (2004). Courtesy Sotheby's

BY Charlotte Burns
executive editor of In Other Words

AND Allan Schwartzman
publisher of In Other Words, co-founder of AAP & chairman of Sotheby's Global Fine Arts

In Analysis

*This article is part of our special auction report, which you can find here

When we talk about the market, we’re really referring to a series of mini-markets. The devil is in the detail, so here are our takes on several specific artists’ markets.

Alexander Archipenko

There was consistent demand for works by Archipenko, which seemed to be part of a growing appetite for Modern sculpture. 

Alexander Archipenko, Hollywood Torso (1936). Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2017

A unique and easy-on-the-eye Hollywood Torso from 1936 hammered at Christie’s for $950,000 ($1.1m with fees, est. $500,000-$700,000) while a silvered bronze White Torso that was conceived in 1916 and cast in 1920 hammered at $200,000 at Philips ($250,000 with fees, est. $100,000-$150,000) while Sotheby’s sold two works including Blue Dancer, conceived in 1913 and cast later in around 1964, which went for $1.6m hammer ($1.9m with fees, est $1.5m-$2.5m) and Seated Figure (1917), a polychromed wood sculpture, which hammered at $460,00 ($564,500 with fees, est. $100,000-$150,000).

Alexander Archipenko, White Torso (1916; cast 1920). Courtesy of Phillips

Archipenko has long been popular, partly because of the great collection of 34 early works in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the fact that the Ukrainian-born artist is often considered Russian, so his work appeals to a wide band of collectors.

Alexander Archipenko, Blue Dancer (1913; cast c.1964). Courtesy Sotheby’s

Philip Guston

Critically revered yet commercially undervalued, the market is primed to rise for works by Philip Guston, this once-Abstract artist who returned to figuration in the 1960s, producing sometimes melancholy, often savage works focusing on life’s detritus. There was anticipation that this would be the season in which the market found new levels after a year of important exhibitions: there have been rave reviews of “Philip Guston and The Poets” at the Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia (until 3 September) as well as of the three exhibitions that have taken place at Hauser & Wirth in London and New York since last July (“Laughter in the Dark, Drawings from 1971 & 1975” is currently on show at Hauser & Wirth London, until 29 July).

Philip Guston, Painter at Night (1979). Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2017

In the event, the market for late Guston works edged upwards but has yet to experience the big leap many have been expecting. There were three paintings in the evening sales, all of which found solid bidding (Hauser & Wirth, which represents the artist’s estate, was the successful bidder on each). 

Philip Guston, Untitled (1973). Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2017

Painter at Night from 1979 became the second most expensive Guston to sell at auction, hammering at $11m ($12.6m with fees, est. $8m-$12m) at Christie’s, where Untitled (1973) hammered at $1.9m ($2.3m with fees, est. $2m-$3m). Meanwhile, four bidders chased Guston’s 1969 Cigar, which hammered at $5.6m at Sotheby’s ($6.5m with fees, est. $4m-$6m), making it the sixth most expensive work by the artist at auction.

Philip Guston, Cigar (1969). Courtesy Sotheby’s

Christopher Wool

Work by Christopher Wool has been the subject of intense market demand over the past five years. The market began moving with momentum around ten years ago, accelerating in the past five (the top 20 prices for the “end-game painter” have all been set since 2012—all but one, the 20th, for his punkish word paintings) and soaring in 2013 with Apocalypse Now (1988). The work had been intended as the centerpiece of the Guggenheim’s major mid-career Wool retrospective but went instead to auction where it set a then-record, selling at Christie’s for $26.5m (est. $15m-$20m) to dealer Christophe Van de Weghe. That price was bested in 2015 when Untitled (Riot) (1990) made a new artist record, selling for $29.9m at Sotheby’s.

Christopher Wool, Untitled (1988). Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2017

Now, it seems like the market has found its level—still high, though less fevered (perhaps the people who really wanted to buy a Wool word painting mostly now own one). Last week, Untitled (1988) hammered just above the high estimate at $15.1m at Christie’s ($17.2m with fees, est. $15m-$20m), making it the fourth highest price for the artist at auction.

Other works from different bodies sold close to their low estimates: Schlapp (2004) sold for $1.6 hammer at Sotheby’s ($1.9m with fees, est. $2m-$3m) while Untitled (1989) hammered at $1m at Christie’s ($1.2m with fees, est. $1m-$1.5m). Of the four works in the day sales, two sold and two were bought in. Now that the market is leveling out, focus will perhaps shift back from market performance to the importance of the work itself. 

Christopher Wool, Schlapp (2004). Courtesy Sotheby’s

Agnes Martin

One of the great Modern masters, Agnes Martin is an artist whose critical importance has been recognized, but whose market has not yet hit the heights that many feel the work deserves. But, her market has been moving upwards: five of the artist’s top ten prices at auction have been set in the past 18 months, including Untitled #13, a 72” square painting from 1980 in pinks, blues, yellows and whites that hammered at Sotheby’s last week for $7m ($8.1m with fees, est. $5m-$7m), chased by four bidders, to become the second top auction result. It is also a record price for a painting made outside the most sought after period of the 1960s. 

Agnes Martin, Untitled #13 (1980) © 2017 Estate of Agnes Martin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Sotheby’s

Another 72” square, this one pinkish-white, Untitled II (1982) hammered at $4.2m at Christie’s ($4.95m with fees, est. $2.5m-$3.5m) to take a place as the sixth most expensive auction sale.

Agnes Martin, Untitled II (1982) © 2017 Estate of Agnes Martin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2017

Phillips had another 72” square, Untitled #1 (1985), a darker painting in shades of grey—a lovely work, though perhaps of less obvious appeal—which hammered at $3.3m ($3.9m with fees, est. $4m-$6m).

Agnes Martin, Untitled #1 (1985) © 2017 Estate of Agnes Martin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Phillips

Jeff Koons

One of the missed opportunities of the season was Jeff Koons’ New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5 Gallon Doubledecker (1981-86), which is one of his best early appliance pieces. These are masterworks that have been relatively conservatively priced when his market as a whole is taken into consideration, and this is a great example: yet it sold on one bid, which suggests the market has room to evolve.

Jeff Koons, New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5 Gallon Doubledecker (1981-86) © Jeff Koons. Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2017

This sculpture sold at Christie’s at $6.8m hammer ($7.9m with fees, est. $7m-$9m), making it the 22nd highest price for the artist at auction, and far behind his $58.5m record for his Celebration series Balloon Dog (Orange) (1994-2000), sold in 2013 at Christie’s. Only one appliance work features in Koons’ top 20: New Hoover Convertibles, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5-Gallon, Double Decker (1981-86), which sold for $11.8m at Christie’s in 2008.

Jean Dubuffet

The work of this postwar French artist, who founded the Art Brut movement, has fallen in and out of favor. Prices soared in the late 1980s and early 1990s when his work was chased by the Japanese buyers who propelled the market boom. But, after their sudden withdrawal, his market plunged (along with the rest of the art market).

Jean Dubuffet, Le Truand (1954). Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2017

Dubuffet, once a staple of the contemporary market, had increasingly been looking like an artist who stood at the end of a line of the kind of European figuration that lost ground as art rooted in conceptual ideology—owing more to Duchamp and Warhol than Bacon and Dubuffet—held sway.

But, in the context of today’s market, which is reassessing so much of the postwar art that had previously been ignored by the American and European markets (such as from Asia and South America), rediscovery in our own Euro-centric backyard is taking place. 

A reconsideration of Dubuffet has been playing out in the market over the past few years: all but one of his top ten auction prices have been set since 2014, and there is room for further growth.

Jean Dubuffet, Gesticuleur (1946) © 2016 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy Sotheby’s

Two works sold, with fees, within $100,000 of each other last week, creeping into the artist’s top ten: Le Truand (1954), part of the Cleveland Clinic property sale at Christie’s, which sold above its high estimate to hammer at $4.7m ($5.5m with fees, est. $2m-$3m) and Gesticuleur (1946) which hammered at $3.9m ($5.4m with fees, est. $1.5m-$2m) at Sotheby’s, where Le Bateau II (1964) also sold at $1.8m ($2.2m with fees, est. $1.8m-2.5m).

Jean Dubuffet, Le Bateau II (1964) © 2016 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy Sotheby’s

Rudolf Stingel

This was a season heavy on images of morose men with Stingel’s Untitled (After Sam) (2017) one of the largest examples. This 15ft-long canvas more than doubled the previous $4.7m auction record for the artist, hammering on one bid at $9.2m ($10.6m with fees, est. $10m-$15m) at Christie’s.

Rudolf Stingel, Untitled (After Sam) (2006). Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2017

It was the third time Stingel’s former record was smashed over the course of two nights: later in the same sale Untitled (2012), a galvanized cast copper work, hammered at $5.8m to become the third most expensive work by the artist at auction ($6.7m with fees, est. $4.5m-$5.5m).

Rudolf Stingel, Untitled (2012). Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd.

At Sotheby’s the following evening, Untitled (2012) a large electroformed copper, plated nickel and gold work, had the same hammer but took second place in the records ($6.9m, est. $5m-$7m).

Rudolf Stingel, Untitled (2012). Courtesy Sotheby’s

Overall, there were nine Stingels on the block across the evening and day sales last week, estimated to sell for a total between $21.4m-$30.3m. Eight sold for a total $26.1m when fees were added, which shows that while presale expectations were high, there is strong demand for work by Stingel.

Wolfgang Tillmans

This is an example of a market on the move. A record was set for the artist at auction last week when the red Freischwimmer 123 (2004), hammered at $540,000 ($660,500 with fees, est. $200,000 – $300,000) at Sotheby’s. The Freischwimmer series (the title of which refers both to the German levels of swimming proficiency as well as ‘one who swims freely’), were all created in the darkroom without a camera or negative—abstract images that appear to float.

Wolfgang Tillmans, Freischwimmer 123 (2004). Courtesy Sotheby’s

Six of the top ten prices for these works have been set this year alone. So far, there doesn’t appear to be a hierarchy forming for certain colors (as there is with, for example, Fontana slash works). Another abstract work, quiet mind (2005), sold at Phillips. The framed chromogenic print, filled with atmospheric greens, was also created without a camera and was chased by several bidders to hammer at $260,000 ($322,000 with fees, est. $70,000-$100,000), suggesting growing demand for his work, specifically his non-representational photographs. 

Wolfgang Tillmans, quiet mind (2005). Courtesy Phillips

The market demand comes in tandem with major institutional exhibitions. Critics have lavished praise on the Tillmans retrospective at Tate (“Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017”, until 11 June), while visitors to the Art Basel fair next month can take in a major exhibition of his work at the Fondation Beyeler—the first time the institution has devoted a show on this scale to photography (until 1 October).

—For our postwar and contemporary report, click here

Records Set in the Evening Sales

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (1982) © 2017 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS. Courtesy Sotheby's

BY Chelsea Perkins
project manager at AAP

In Analysis

*This article is part of our special auction report, which you can find here

$110.5m, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (1982), est. in excess of $60m at Sotheby’s


$57.4m, Constantin Brancusi, La muse endormie (1913), est. $25m-$35m at Christie’s


$28.8m, Peter Doig, Rosedale (1991), est. in excess of $25m at Phillips


$16.8m, Mark Grotjahn, Untitled (S III Released to France Face 43.14) (2011) est. $13m-$16m at Christie’s


$16m, Max Ernst, Le Roi jouant avec la reine (1944; cast c.1950-59), est. $4m-$6m at Sotheby’s (record for sculpture by the artist)


Rudolf Stingel, Untitled (After Sam) (2006). Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2017

$10.6m, Rudolf Stingel, Untitled (After Sam) (2006), est. $10m-$15m at Christie’s


$10.3m, Roy Lichtenstein, Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight (1996), est. in excess of $10m at Phillips (record for sculpture by the artist)


$6.9m, Rudolf Stingel, Untitled (2012), est. $5m- $7m at Sotheby’s (record for the artist in the medium: electroformed copper, plated nickel and gold, stainless steel frame)


$6.5m, Keith Haring, Untitled (1982), est. $4m-$6m at Sotheby’s


$6.3m, Diego Giacometti, Bibliothèque de l’Île Saint-Louis (c.1966-69), est. $2m-$3m at Sotheby’s


$5.3m, Robert Gober, Untitled (1985), est. $3.5m-$5.5m at Christie’s


Jean Arp, Torse des Pyrénées (1959; cast 1962). Courtesy Sotheby’s

$4.9m, Jean Arp, Torse des Pyrénées (1959; cast 1962), est. $1.5m-$2.5m at Sotheby’s


$4.5m, Blinky Palermo, Rot/Gelb (1968), est. $1.5m-$2m at Sotheby’s


$3m, Germaine Richier, Don Quichotte (1950-51), est. $1.5m-$2.5m at Sotheby’s


$2.2m, Gerhard Richter, Untitled (5.4.86) (1986), est. $700,000-$1m at Sotheby’s (record for the artist for work on paper)


$2.2m, Man Ray, Portrait of a Tearful Woman (1936), est. $400,000-$600,000 at Christie’s (record for the artist in the medium: hand-colored gelatin silver print, mounted on card)


$1.5m, Mira Schendel, Untitled, From the Series Droguinhas (Little Nothings) (1966), est. $1.2m-$1.8m at Sotheby’s


$1.2m, Jonas Wood, Black Still Life (2012), est. $250,000-$350,000 at Sotheby’s


$948,500, Takeo Yamaguchi, Yellow Eyes (1959), est. $200,000-$300,000 at Sotheby’s


Nicole Eisenman, Winter Solstice 2012 Dinner Party (2009). Courtesy Phillips

$670,000, Nicole Eisenman, Winter Solstice 2012 Dinner Party (2009), est. $100,000-$150,000 at Phillips


$660,500, Wolfgang Tillmans, Freischwimmer 123 (2004), est. $200,000-$300,000 at Sotheby’s


$583,500, David Salle, Footmen (1986), est. $250,000-$350,000 at Christie’s

*All figures over $1m are rounded up to the closest $100,000


—For our Postwar and Contemporary report, click here

Records Set in the Day Sales

The auction record for Barkley L. Hendricks was smashed twice within one sale. Taking the top slot was The Way You Look Tonight (1981), which sold for $960,500 (est. $200,000-$300,000). Earlier in the auction, Innocence & Friend (1977) had made a record for the artist when it sold for $396,500 (est. $100,000-$150,000). A third work Yocks (1975) also sold for $942,500 (est. $300,000-$400,000). The artist, who recently passed away, will be featured in the next New Orleans Triennial (“Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp”). Image courtesy Sotheby's

BY Chelsea Perkins
project manager at AAP

In Analysis

*This article is part of our special auction report, which you can find here

$1.7m, Sean Scully, Landline Sea (2015), est. $600,000-$800,000 at Sotheby’s


$1.2m, Sam Francis, Untitled (1958), est. $400,000-$600,000 at Sotheby’s (record for work on paper by the artist)


$960,500, Barkley L. Hendricks, The Way You Look Tonight/Diagonal Graciousness (1981), est. $200,000-$300,000 at Sotheby’s


$871,500, Franz West, Untitled (2011), est. $600,000-$800,000 at Christie’s


$672,500, Jack Whitten, Epsilon Group, III (1976), est. $150,000-$200,000 at Sotheby’s


$162,500, Sylvie Fleury, Mushroom (Starchrom III Evo 1- Rage Extreme GP-Holographie Glitter) (2008); Mushroom (UG Autowave blau-met Libelle 55-483-x Stardust) (2008); Mushroom (UG Silber met-Auotwave CM 308 C4-Black Jade-Amber Gold) (2008), est. $70,000-$100,000 at Christie’s


$162,500, Niele Toroni, Empreintes de pinceau nº 50 répétées à intervalles régulieres (1971), est. $80,000-$120,000 at Christie’s


$87,500, Suzan Frecon, Composition with Orange and Green 3 (2007), est. $60,000-$80,000 at Sotheby’s


$68,750, Shara Hughes, Rock Collection (2007), est. $6,000-$8,000 at Sotheby’s


$68,750, Julia Wachtel, Landscape No. 13 (backyard) (1990), est. $60,000-$80,000 at Phillips


$56,250, Sarah Crowner, New Red Form (2014), est. $15,000-$20,000 at Christie’s


$43,750, Kon Trubkovich, Too Close To Heaven (2012), est. $25,000-$35,000 at Sotheby’s


$37,500, John Giorno, I AM WAITING IN LINE WITH MY GROCERIES AND I WANT TO GET AWAY WITHOUT INCIDENT (1989), est. $30,000-$40,000 at Christie’s


$30,000, Anne Collier, Studio Floor #1 (Marilyn) (2009), est. $15,000-$20,000 at Phillips


$30,000, Jackie Saccoccio, Portrait (Perspective) (2012), est. $7,000-$10,000 at Sotheby’s


$23,750, Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, Ceviche and Peruvian Meat (2011), est. $10,000-$15,000 at Phillips


$10,625, Jon Rafman, 8 Rue Valette, Pompertuzat, Midi-Pyrenees, France (2011), est. $6,000-$8,000 at Sotheby’s


$8,750, Chie Fueki, Significant Moment (2005), est. $10,000-$15,000 at Phillips


$8,125, Derek Fordjour, Untitled (Girl with trophy) (2015), est. $8,000-$12,000 at Phillips


—For insights into specific artists’ markets, click here

Tick, Tock, History’s Clock

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Perfect Lovers) (1987-1990) © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation. Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York and David Zwirner, New York/London

BY Christian Viveros-Fauné
art and culture critic

In Must See

Félix González-Torres, “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers), (1987-1990)

One of the most important artists to emerge in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Félix González-Torres is said to have closely monitored the use of his personal biography and to have largely avoided being photographed—the better to escape having success and celebrity limit the interpretation of his work. And yet his untimely death from AIDS in 1996 has magnified the impact of González-Torres’ use of everyday objects in his art as a metaphor for the process of dying and regeneration. 

Known for minimal installations and sculptures, González-Torres used materials including lightbulbs, clocks, stacks of paper and packaged hard candies to create quietly conceptual and powerfully emotional works of art. In 1991, he portrayed his AIDS-afflicted lover as a 175-pound mound of shiny sweets, “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in LA), (1991). The cellophane-wrapped candies were to be consumed by gallery visitors, so that the pile diminished steadily in quantity like his lover’s dwindling body weight. Unlike his lover’s health, the sweets could be regularly replenished—much as the human race repopulates every day.

Such logic animates “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers) (1987-1990), on view at David Zwirner’s 20th Street gallery in a mini-survey of the legendary artist’s career, “Félix González-Torres” (until 24 June). A work that features two commercial wall clocks installed side by side, it folds dime-store familiarity and metaphorical concision into a single poetic gesture.

Identical but independent, the clocks run in sync but will eventually fall out of time with one another. Because the artist specified that the clocks should be restarted when they stop, there is no mistaking his final message: life propels life, in imitation of the sustaining symbolism contained within González-Torres own creations.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Vigil for a Horseman (2017)

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Vigil For A Horseman (2017), center of three parts. Courtesy the artist/Corvi-Mora, London/Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Arranged around the wine-colored walls of the New Museum’s open fourth-floor gallery, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s exhibition of paintings presents an encyclopedic sweep of historical portraiture—but with a pantheon of sensuous black figures depicted instead of the usual Caucasian suspects (“Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Under-Song for a Cipher”, until 3 September). 

Painted with spare but bravura brushwork and a restrained palette full of various shades of browns, the 17 canvases on view channel Old Masters and proto-Modernists from Velázquez to Joshua Reynolds and Édouard Manet. The portraits are of entirely fictional people whom the artist composites from drawings, magazine clippings and her own memories. Their elegant bearing belies the historical absence of black faces and bodies during more than five centuries of European painting. 

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Vigil For A Horseman (2017), left of three parts. Courtesy the artist/Corvi-Mora, London/Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

The exhibition’s most colorful work and only triptych, Vigil for a Horseman consists of three canvases featuring two black males attired in black tops and red tights lounging on top of a red and white striped bed and a black and blue diamond-patterned cushion. It was painted quickly, as were the other canvases, and without the benefit (or hindrance) of disegno—the underlayer of drawing used in traditional portraiture.

Additionally, the triptych’s loose brushwork courts enigma, shadowed by the history of representation, with an expert hand.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Vigil For A Horseman (2017), right of three parts. Courtesy the artist/Corvi-Mora, London/Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

A tour de force of patterned color and painterly restraint, Vigil for a Horseman and its purposefully ambiguous title—in the artist’s own words, her captioning functions less as an explanation than an extra “mark in the paintings”—propose a unique rationale for making finely calibrated pictures of black figures. Painted without the usual visual markers that might indicate a time stamp or social and cultural origins (which we know to be fictional), Yiadom-Boakye’s mysteriously handsome figures exist in an allegorically retroactive space—a present where works like these, and those of other leading black artists, can aspire to self-invent a visual canon.

Irving Penn, Truman Capote, New York (1948)

Irving Penn, Truman Capote (New York, 1948), The Metropolitan Museum of Art © The Irving Penn Foundation

One of the most prolific photographers of the 20th-century, Irving Penn made pictures of just about everything under his hot studio lights. Whether working for corporations such as General Foods or for fashion magazines including Vogue, his black and white images were squarely in the public eye. 

Penn’s most thrilling works were a series of spartan portraits he shot of American culture’s postwar royalty—actors, writers, artists, and film directors—during the 1940s and 1950s. One example is a simmering photograph of the young Truman Capote which radiates the heat of a concentrated performance. It is part of the Met’s current retrospective “Irving Penn: Centennial” (until 30 July), which celebrates 100 years since Penn’s birth with a show of more than 200 photographs.

Penn took a reductive approach to making images, in imitation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. He literally corners famous subjects such as Spencer Tracy, Salvador Dalí, and Gypsy Rose Lee between two stage flats to amplify the drama of their poses.

In other works, he underscores the artificial nature of the studio by throwing old carpet over boxes on which Alfred Hitchcock, Marlene Dietrich and others sat or leaned. This stripped-back photograph of Capote eliminates everything except the subject’s most basic cover: his well-tailored clothes and preening nature. Penn’s minimalist stagecraft helped his subjects shed their more practiced impostures and appear directly available to the camera.

Pollock’s Peer

The Art of Alfonso Ossorio

Alfonso Ossorio, Golden Child (1950) © Ossorio Foundation, reproduced with permission

BY Meredith Kirk
director of collections development at AAP

In Must See

The best examples of Alfonso Ossorio’s art synthesize elements of Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Art Brut. Golden Child (1950) has shades of Pollock’s early Surrealist-inspired canvases as well as the dynamism and verve that characterize Abstract Expressionist compositions. Ossorio adds his own stamp through his signature wax-resist method (rubbing wax onto a work’s surface before applying water-based pigment on top) to create a unique texture.

A pioneering artist in his own right, Ossorio was also a devoted patron of peers such as Jackson Pollock and Jean Dubuffet: born into a wealthy Filipino family in Manila in 1916, Ossorio had the means to collect as well as to create. After becoming a US citizen in 1933, he studied Fine Art at Harvard and the Rhode Island School of Design before—like many artists of his generation—joining the army during the Second World War, serving as a medical illustrator.

He showed with Betty Parsons Gallery in Manhattan in the early 1950s, and was adopted into the Abstract Expressionist group. During the same period he met Jean Dubuffet in Paris, and became a devotee of his Art Brut aesthetic.

There was mutual respect: both Pollock and Dubuffet spent a lot of time at Ossorio’s East Hampton estate, called The Creeks, and Dubuffet wrote a book entitled Peintures initiatiques d’Alfonso Ossorio about Ossorio’s studio practice in 1952.

Yet their reputations have since eclipsed his. While Pollock and Dubuffet’s auction records are $58.4m and $24.8m respectively, Ossorio’s is $479,532, for Untitled (1951) at Christie’s Paris last December.

A critical and commercial reappraisal may be on the cards. Pollock and Ossorio were shown as peers and collaborators in the opening exhibition of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s downtown Manhattan space in 2015, when Number 14, 1953 (1953) by Ossorio was installed next to Pollock’s Number 27, 1950 (1950). Institutional support for Ossorio’s work is deep—more than 60 international collections such as the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art own examples.

Meanwhile, the Ossorio Foundation has collaborated on a current exhibition of paintings, sculptures and works on paper made by Ossorio over a 30-year period at Sotheby’s S|2 (“Alfonso Ossorio: Works from the Foundation” until 9 June).

The influence of Pollock and Dubuffet on Ossorio’s art is palpable; from early abstract canvases such as Persistence (1950) and wax-resist watercolors from the 1950s, including Golden Child, to radical mixed-media assemblages, called “congregations”, that he made in the 1970s. Yet in each of the works, such as Mother and Child (1972), in which he combined a wide array of objects into an intricate collage, we are reminded that he was an independently innovative artist whose legacy deserves reconsideration.

Alfonso Ossorio, Mother and Child (1972) © Ossorio Foundation, reproduced with permission

A Sigh for Cy

Bridget Riley, Breathe (1966). Courtesy Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Photo credit: Studio Tromp, Rotterdam

BY Beth Rudin DeWoody
American art patron, collector, curator and philanthropist

In Passions

I have so many works that got away. One that stands out was a Bridget Riley drawing from the 1960s called Study for Breathe (1966). When it was offered to me—we’re talking early 1990s here—it seemed too expensive, so I went away to give it some thought.

By the time I went back to the dealer, the people who owned the work had decided not to sell. I was heartbroken. It was an early black and white drawing that Riley made as a study for the painting of the same name. It was incredible—perfect. It was the Bridget Riley you would want.

Another memory I have is of this incredible Cy Twombly work that I saw in London at Anthony d’Offay’s gallery in the 1980s, hanging above the desk. It was a biggish chalk work and it was the first time I had really seen much of Twombly’s work—I was just beginning to learn about him. I didn’t know much, but I knew that this was gorgeous.

At the time the painting cost around $100,000, which, in those days, felt like a million dollars. Oh my God—if we had had that kind of money, I would have bought it.

I was this close to getting Study for Breathe, whereas I could never have actually owned the Twombly. But, both were works I wish I could have bought, because I knew I would have loved them forever.


The Greatest Show on Earth

BY Molly Ott Ambler
senior vice president and senior specialist of Impressionist & Modern Art at Sotheby's

In Galleries

Art Agency, Partners is a bespoke art advisory firm founded in 2014, and built upon decades of combined experience, to provide counsel to many of the world's leading art collectors and institutions on collection assessment and development, estate planning, and innovative approaches to museum giving and growth.