With no fewer than 12 auctions conducted at the three auction houses, the jam-packed week of sales created a bustling atmosphere but it was not always matched by the kind of intense bidding seen at previous May seasons in the Big Apple.
The sales were previously more spread out with the Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary art series held back-to-back over a fortnight. The new approach here seemingly did not generate the additional crossover bidding that might have been hoped for and the overall totals were left looking rather flat.
The equivalent sales last year achieved a total of $2.73bn which was over double the amount here although, last May, a series of major lots helped lift that stellar fortnight to the highest figures on record.
As has been the case for a number years now, the totals and selling rates for the latest Imps & Mods sales trailed in the wake of the Contemporary art auctions but the gap appeared to widen further.
The top lot of the week came at Christie’s Post-War Contemporary art evening sale on May 10 as Jean-Michel Basquiat's Untitled, a 5m wide acrylic on canvas painted in 1982, set a new high for the artist when it was knocked down at $51m (£40m). It was bought by Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa – the businessman who founded Japan's largest online fashion mall and is reportedly worth $2bn.
Little was known prior to this sale about Maezawa’s collecting but he entered the market in dramatic fashion, buying five other works at the Christie’s sale (including Richard Prince's Runaway Nurse (2007) which was knocked down at a record $8.5m/6.16m) and then snapping up two further works at Sotheby’s Contemporary art sale the night after – Christopher Wool’s Untitled (P.119) from 1990 that fetched $12.2m (£8.84m) against a $14m-18m estimate, and Adrian Ghenie’s Self Portrait as Vincent Van Gogh from 2012, which made $2.15m (£1.56m) against an estimate of $200,000-300,000.
Christie’s chairman and international head of Post-War and Contemporary art Brett Gorvy said: “We are very proud of the record price achieved for Basquiat’s monumental portrait of the artist as devil at a time when top collectors are pursuing works of the very highest quality. This painting drew intense competition that dispelled questions of a market contraction. We are particularly happy that the work was acquired by a collector in Asia, demonstrating the global scope of the masterpiece market.”
Earlier in the week, Christie’s repeated the practice they introduced last year of staging a mixed-category ‘themed’ auction. Their ‘Bound To Fail’ sale on May 8 added $78.1m (£56.6m) to their overall total for the week and helped them stay ahead of rivals Sotheby’s when it came to market share.
New York sales… In Numbers
Sotheby’s total for the week (including premium) from their Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary auctions
Christie’s running total for the week from their of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary auctions (including premium) – there were two Impressionist and Modern Art Day sales still to come at the time of writing.
Phillips total in New York for their 20th Century & Contemporary Art auctions (including premium)
The hammer total for Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art sale on May 9.
The presale estimate was $164.8m-235.8m
The hammer total for Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Art sale on May 12. The presale estimate was $134-197m
The hammer total for Christie’s Post-War Contemporary art evening sale on May 10. The pre-sale estimate was $285.6m-398.2m
The hammer total for Sotheby’s Contemporary art evening sale on May 11. The pre-sale estimate was $201.4m-257.5m
Sold-by-lot rate for Sotheby’s Contemporary art evening sale on May 11 with 42 of 44 lots finding buyers.