Americans Show Up for Christies Contemporary


Strong results for Christie’s Contemporary sale: Last night Christie’s sold $74,151,500 worth of art. The sale carried a presale low estimate of $68.65 million and a high estimate of $97.15.
Despite the fact Christie’s bought in two of its top lots—a Warhol Tuna Disaster and a $9 million Basquiat, both from Peter Brant’s collection—the room was packed with collectors and dealers. The statistics were  good: 85% sold by lot and 82% by dollar value, which are great results no matter the economic climate.
American bidders seemed to be back in force. According to Christie’s, 82% of the buyers last night were American; 13% came from Europe; 2.5% were Asian, and 2.5% anonymous. (Of course the statistics can be misleading, as European-born dealers work out of New York and American dealers often buy for clients abroad—and vise versa, in all kinds of permutations.)  
Some of the work was unique to the market, including the notable collection of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, from which six works were sold to benefit the Cunningham Trust. It was a rare treat to see these works by their legendary peers, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Philip Guston. The highlight of the group was Jasper Johns’ Dancers on a Plane, lot 3 from 1980–81, which was inspired by Cunningham and his dancers (SEE: LEFT). The work shot up and was hammered down at $4,338,500 selling to Arie Fleichman against a presale estimate of $1.5–2 million. The works carried extremely conservative estimates, which only added to the excitement in the room. An early clay painting, lot 5 by Rauschenberg, sold below estimate at $98,500 against a presale estimate of $200,000-300,000. Otherwise, the Rauschenbergs fared well: a small, untitled transfer drawing with watches sold to Luhring Augustine gallery for $938,000 against an estimate of $100-150,000. Lot 6, Rauschenberg’s No. 1, a historic black painting, was underbid by the dealer Daniella Luxembourg and sold for $962,500 to a telephone bidder, against a presale estimate of $800–1.2 million. Lot 2, estimated at $150,000–200,000, set a record price for a Guston work on paper and was hammered down at $542,500,000 to a Christie’s telephone bidder.
The highlight of the evening was lot 13, the larger than life Reflection (What does your soul look like), Peter Doig’s oil on canvas painting from 1996. The work was bought that same year from Gavin Brown’s Enterprise by collector Cesar Reyes, a psychiatrist from Puerto Rico. The work’s value sky-rocketed as the consignor, Brown, the artist, and his wife looked on. Bidding was at least six deep, with bids all over the room and on the phone. After a prolonged back-and-forth bidding war between Jay Jopling and Marc Porter, President of Christie’s, the work was sold for $10,162,500 with premium. An unhappy Jopling seemed to want one more bid. No such luck, as Porter won it.
Jeff Koons, Joan Mitchell, and Basquiat all had good evenings. Take lot 8, the painted polychrome sculpture by Jeff Koons, Large Vase of Flowers, which was estimated at $4–6 million and sold to Larry Gagosian for $5,682,500. Another Jeff Koons sculpture, lot 18, New Shelton Wet/Dry 5- Gallon, New Hoover Convertible Double-Decker, an encased sculpture, sold to Phillipe Segalot for $3,106,500 against a presale estimate of $2–3 million. An untitled Basquiat, lot 14, a fully worked large drawing from 1982, was estimated at $1.8–2.8 and sold after dealers including Tony Shafrazi and Guy Bennett dropped out. Brett Gorvy bought it on the phone $3,106,500, setting a world record price for a work on paper by the artist.
There were a few lots that did not sell. Brett Gorvy, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s said the Warhol Tuna Disaster, lot 25 and estimated at $6–8 million was, “an intellectual piece with limited bidders.”He went on to say it might be “too specific for the current market.”  Dealers thought the oversized Basquiat was too expensive—and too big—at $9–12 million.

Dealer Diane Ackerman called it “a super successful sale,” and indeed it was.