Christie's Shoots For Biggest Ever Sale of Contemporary Art
Christie's New York estimates that its Nov. 14 postwar and contemporary art evening sale may command as much as $441 million, which would make it the biggest such sale to date. In May, the auction house hosted what is still the most valuable contemporary art auction, which totaled $388 million, including a Rothko that became the highest-selling work of postwar art at $86.8 million.
"There are people with tremendous surplus capital who are looking to invest in assets that will appreciate, and it's not prudent for them to put it in the bank where returns are minuscule," said Todd Levin, director of Levin Art Group, a New York art advisory, on the phone with A.i.A. "Cheap money has led to inflated values for all assets—equities, diamonds, real estate, wine, and art—creating upward pressure. Surplus cash, redirected into other kinds of assets such as art, creates bubbles."
A 3D Andy Warhol painting of the Statue of Liberty in red and green will be on offer that evening. In tribute to it, the catalogue includes red-and-green-lensed glasses for viewing the painting, along with 13 pages devoted to 3D images showing Warhol and other Factory denizens, such as Edie Sedgwick and Gerard Malanga.
The sale will follow a night when Sotheby's will have as much as $290 million worth of art on offer, testing a red-hot market.
Despite many auction records set at sales in May and June, sellers needed some coaxing to part with their treasures. The catalogue indicates that 24 of the 74 lots on offer have a minimum price guaranteed by a third party.
"The higher the estimate, the more important the artist is, the better the artwork is going to do," New York dealer Christophe van de Weghe told A.i.A. by phone. "One thing that was really striking at the contemporary art auctions in London two weeks ago is actually how little material was being offered. Maybe they all waited to sell in New York." Sotheby's contemporary art sale in London on Oct. 12 totaled just $70.8 million, half of it paid for a single Richter canvas.
Among the night's top lots are the Warhol 3D painting, estimated at $35 million, and a Franz Kline canvas and a Jeff Koons sculpture, both estimated to bring $20-30 million.
The Warhol Statue of Liberty (1962) shows a grid of 24 images of Lady Liberty in red and a green hue that echoes that of the statue. According to the auction house, it is the first example of the artist's paintings in 3D and the only one still in private hands. The others are in museums: Optical Car Crash at the Kunstmuseum Basel and a smaller version of Statue of Liberty at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
Another Warhol canvas, this one from 1966, depicts Marlon Brando as a motorcycle gangster in the 1953 film The Wild One and is expected to bring $15-20 million. The unnamed current owner bought it at Christie's in 2003 for a bargain $5 million. Marlon shows the star in a biker jacket and leaning on his motorcycle. In the film, Brando's character, when asked what he was rebelling against, famously replied "What've you got?"
Koons's Tulips, being sold by Hannover, Germany's Norddeutsches Landesbank, is a 17-foot-long stainless steel sculpture of a bouquet of the titular bloom, made out of balloons like his oversize balloon dogs, in a rainbow of colors. It's one of five unique versions of the work. Koons has said, on the Colbert Report among other places, that the balloon, for him, represents the human body, constantly being filled with, and emptied of, life-giving air.
A nearly 10-foot-wide untitled canvas by Kline, from 1957, is being offered by an unnamed seller. The composition consists of giant, calligraphic slashes of black on a dirty-white ground. Lending some celebrity glitz to the painting's raw power is the fact that it passed through the collection of music executive David Geffen.
A dramatic, untitled large canvas by Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1981 is estimated to bring as much as $20 million, and thus might outstrip the current record price of $20.1 million, paid for a Basquiat work in June at Christie's, London. The painting depicts a figure holding a fishing rod and a fish, set against a colorful, abstract background. It comes from a private collection where it has resided for nearly 20 years.
According to Christie's, the work has been included in every major Basquiat retrospective and comes from the height of his career. Reflecting the super-heated market for contemporary art, the record-breaking sale in London came right on the heels of the previous record for his work, $16.3 million, which was set at Phillips de Pury, New York, in May.
A 6-by-10-foot Richter canvas estimated to sell for $10-15 million, Große Teyde-Landschaft (1971), shows a hazy landscape under a cloudy sky, resulting in a work that hovers between representation and abstraction. According to the sales catalogue, is based on holiday snapshots of the volcanic regions of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands.
Also included among the 74 works on offer are no fewer than seven by Alexander Calder, three other Richters, four by Lichtenstein and three by Hans Hofmann, along with works by Condo, Currin, Johns, Judd, Rauschenberg, Serra and Twombly.
Levin sounded a note of caution about reading too much into even apparently successful results on the evening's sale. "Things may sell, but because there are a lot of third-party guarantees, it's going to be hard to understand how successful the sale actually was even when we know what the numbers are. It's not going to be as transparent as one would like."