It was no small irony that a work from Jeff Koons’s “Celebration” series, Baroque Egg with Bow (Turquoise/Magenta) (1994-2008), took top lot last night at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art evening sale, where Larry Gagosian snapped up the piece for $5,458,5000, just under the $6 million low estimate. A thoroughly blue chip exchange, though one that belied the same narrative that underscored last week’s Impressionist and Modern sale where results were respectable enough, but still lackluster when compared to those in previous years. (Just last September, Gagosian offered Koons’s chrome nugget for a price that hovered somewhere in the $18-20 million range. The work in question was purchased in 2004 for around $3 million.)
Last night’s bidding totaled $47,033,500 — not terribly short of its pre-sale estimate of $51.8 million, as nine of 48 works sold for a sell-through rate of 81 percent by lot, and 78 percent by value. In contrast, last year’s sale drew a staggering $362 million, or 88 percent by lot. Speaking diplomatically, Sotheby’s contemporary head Tobias Meyer described the market as a “recalibrated” one, a discreet way of stating the obvious: Things are fine enough, but not as fun as they used to be.
Reflecting larger trends in consumer spending, buyers focused less on speculation — on “things” if you will — and more on sound investments in known names: Greek industrialist Dakis Joannou sold an untitled 1988 self portrait by Martin Kippenberger for $4.1 million, on the high end of its $3.5 to $4.5 million estimate — an auction record for the artist, whose recent MoMA retrospective certainly didn’t hinder its selling potential. Another of Joannou’s lots, Christopher Wool’s Untitled (P105) from 1989 brought a record price at $1.8 million, just above its $1.5 million estimate.
Two paintings by Richard Prince sold — Can You Imagine (1989) pulled in $1,370,500 on a $600-800,000 estimate, while My Girlfriend (2005) went for $662,500. Jean Michael Basquiat’s Red Man One (1982) commanded a telephone bid of $3,554,500 (est. $3-5 million). A mobile work by Alexander Calder, Ebony Sticks in a Semi-Circle (1934), sent its kinetic energy across the floor, where a minor bidding skirmish ensued as five prospective buyers, including L.A. financier and arts patron Eli Broad, grappled for the piece. It sold to a telephone bidder for $3.5 million, over double the $1.5 million high estimate.
[Click through the slide show above for the top lots from Sotheby’s Contemporary evening auction. Note that final prices include the commission paid to Sotheby’s: 25 percent of the first $50,000; 20 percent of the next $50,000 to $1 million; and 12 percent of the rest. Estimates do not reflect commissions.]