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Sotheby’s second double-header auction of the week fared well last night, with a combined hammer result of $175.8m for the 46 lots sold. That number jumped to $204.6m (with fees), close to the low side of pre-sale expectations set at $172.1-235.4m (estimates do not include fees).

The peppier, or seemingly so, The Now sale realised $30m ($37.1m with fees) and a crisp sale through rate of 82.6% by lot, with four out of the 23 works offered failing to sell. In addition, two lots were withdrawn, including a Yoshitomo Nara estimated at $12m to $18m. The result aligned on the low side of pre-sale expectations pegged at $29.2m to $42.1m.

For deeper comparison’s sake, tonight’s figures also trailed last May’s $72.9m all-in tally for The Now sale, from 23 sold lots. This round had eight lots backed by house and or third party guarantees (the latter also known as “irrevocable bids”).

Henry Taylor’s From Congo to the Capital, and black again

Six artist records were set, starting with the first lot—Justin Caguiat’s large-scale, earth toned abstraction, to the approach of beauty its body is fungible from 2020 that sold for $620,000 ($787,400 with fees, est. $150,000-$200,000).

The next lot, Jadé Fadojutimi’s flashy, colour charged abstraction, A Toast to..? (2020) scaled at 190cm by 220cm, brought $750,000/$952,500 with fees (est. $500-700,000).

Moving on to a gritty, figurative vein, the third lot, Nicole Eisenman’s

Night Studio (2009), depicting an entangled pair of reclining, mostly nude figures surrounded by art books, cigarettes and a beer bottle, brought a rousing and record $2m ($2.4m with fees, est. $800,000-$1.2m).

Featured in her 2016 retrospective at The New Museum in New York, it came armed with an irrevocable bid. You could tell it was so, since it matched the hammer price of the following lot but came in $50,000 less with the buyer’s premium (due to the guarantor’s financing fee).

Kerry James Marshall’s Untitled (Mask Boy)

Next up, a brawny and bold play on Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon (1907)—Henry Taylor’s magnificent From Congo to the Capital, and black again (2007) unleashed a mini-bidding frenzy and sold to a telephone bidder for a record $2m ($2.4m with fees, est. $1m-$1.5m). The Los Angeles-based dealer Jeffrey Deitch was one of the underbidders.

The Taylor recently appeared in the artist’s B Side exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, which ended less than a month ago.

Figurative paintings were in rich abundance with Kerry James Marshall’s Untitled (Mask Boy, 2014), executed in acrylic on PVC panel, taking the top lot spot at $4.7m ($5.7m with fees, est. $4m-$6m) and Glenn Ligon’s Malcolm X (version 1) #1 from 2000, taken from a child’s colouring book, that sold for $800,000 ($1m with fees, est. $1m-$1.5m). It last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2016 for $850,000 (without fees).

Nicole Eisenman’s Night Studio

Other notable entries ranged from Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s medal bedecked portrait of a woman, For Services-Victoria Regina (2013) that brought $1.1m ($1.3m with fees, est. $600,000-$800,000) to David Hammons’ tarp cloaked abstraction, Untitled (2009) that brought $1.8m ($2.1m with fees, est. $1.5m-$2m). The Hammons also came insured with an irrevocable bid.

Lesser known entries included the Zimbabwe-based Portia Zvavahera’s mural-scaled composition of an embracing group of figures, Vese Vakanddibata (They all gave me strength, 2016) that realised a record $280,000 ($355,600 with fees, est. $100,000-$150,000) and [lot 24] Julian Nguyen’s altarpiece-esque I know why the caged bird sssings (2016) sold for $260,000 ($330,200 with fees, est. $150,000-200,000).

The 45-minute tune-up to the larger contemporary component of the sale also included Jonas Woods’ Matisse-like Red Pot with white Blouse (2018) sold to the London advisory Beaumont Nathan for $3m ($3.6m with fees) and Mark Bradford’s richly-layered I don’t care if he’s Captain America (2018) that sold to the artist’s dealers Hauser & Wirth for $2.7m ($3.3m with fees).

David Hockney’s Drawing of a Pool and Towel

Though the buy-in rate was decent enough, some consignors clearly dropped their secret reserve bottom lines, as evidenced by Mark Grotjahn’s heavily impastoed Untitled (Into and Through the Jungle Monkey Face 45.98, 2014) that sold for $2.5m/$3m (est. $4m-$6m).

After a short break and change-over of auctioneers, the evening resumed with the contemporary section of some 27 lots. First up, David Hockney’s shimmering Drawing of a Pool and Towel (1971), executed in coloured crayon, pencil and pastel on paper that floated to $2.5m ($3m with fees, est. $1m-$1.5m).

The consigner acquired it at Christie’s in London in December 1999 for £100,500 (with fees). This time round, it came backed by a house guarantee, one of 15 lots that had either a house or irrevocable bids arranged before the auction.

All in, the 27 lots tallied $145.7m ($167.4m with fees). It was optically a white glove sale, though three lots were withdrawn at the eleventh hour.

Some entries made super-charged results such as the small-scaled Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild (1990), a squeegee painting redolent in vibrant hues, that shot to $4.5m ($5.5m with fees, est. $2m-$3m) and Howardeena Pindell’s early, large-scaled and spray painted abstraction, Untitled (1971) hit a record $1.3m ($2.1m with fees, est. $500,000-$700,000).

Wayne Thiebaud’s Candy Counter

Looking further back to key Ab-Ex times, Ad Reinhardt’s monchromatic Red Painting (1953), an imposing 102.9cm square, made a record $2.8m ($3.2m with fees, est. $3m-$5m). It was featured in Reinhardt’s MoMA retrospective in 1991 and also came armed with an irrevocable bid.

Still prospecting in that epoch-making era, Helen Frankenthaler’s so-called soak-stain painting, Black Touch (1965) realised $2.8m ($3.4m with fees, est. $2m-$3m).

Back to the figurative front, Wayne Thiebaud’s caloric and price point high Candy Counter (1969), featured in his 2000 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, sold for $12.5m ($14.6m with fees, est. $10m-$15m) and Yves Klein’s monochrome body-marked painting, Anthropométrie Sans Titre (1960) went for a reduced $2.1m ($2.6m with fees, est. $3m-$5m).

Hitting grander scale inches, Gerhard Richter’s 4096 Farben (1974), a monumental colour chart painting reproduced on the cover of his encyclopedic catalogue raisonné, attracted at least a trio of telephone bidders and fetched $20.5m ($21.8m with fees).

It last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2004 for $3.3m (without fees) and this time around came backed by an irrevocable bid.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Now’s the Time

A huge bronze sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, Spider from a 1996 edition of six and sold to benefit cultural activities of the Fundacāo Itaú of São Paulo, took top lot honours and realised a record $30m ($32.8m with fees, est. $30m-$40m).

Another cast from the same edition sold for a then record $32m (with fees) at Christie’s New York in May 2019.


An exhibition framing Basquiat’s art through music rings true

Hovering between sculpture and painting, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s jazz infused, tondo-shaped and jumbo vinyl record-like Now’s the Time (1985), comprised of acrylic and oilstick on wood, hit a modest volume at $25.5m ($28.6m with fees). That fell short of the unpublished estimate of in excess of $30m, but it got away with the help of an irrevocable bid.

Titled after the 1964 Charlie Parker composition, the widely exhibited object hails from the storied collection of Peter Brant, whose eponymous foundation is currently staging a major Andy Warhol exhibition at its East Village location.

A stunning and decidedly minimal abstraction by Blinky Palermo, Ohne Titel (1970), executed in dyed cotton mounted on muslin, sold to the private dealer Philippe Segalot after a see-saw bidding battle for a record $5.2m ($6.3m with fees).

”It’s rare, beautiful and in pristine condition,” Segalot said as he exited the salesroom, “so we’re very happy.”

Tonight’s combined result, though hardly record breaking, took some of the anxious edge off Christie’s troubled single-owner sale on Wednesday and once again reaffirmed the market’s adaptive resiliency.

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