The sparkling NY auction week had the Post War/Contemporary masters on its stage too. And this time it was Christie’s that started first. The sale at the Rockefeller Center totalled $277 million, with 54 out of 61 lots sold. Once again, the presence of third-party guarantees could not go unnoticed: 17 lots enjoyed from the help of external finance. Such a strategy was not necessary though (and rightly so) for the top lot of the night: Untitled XXV by Willem de Kooning achieved $66.3 million (with fees), a new auction high for the artist. It must be highlighted here how this specific painting had already collected an illustrious auction appearance in the past since in 2006 it had sold for $27.1 million, setting up the record for any Post War/Contemporary art piece at that time.
Post War & Contemporary Art evening auctions, NYC - Christie’s on November 15th; Phillips on November 16th and Sotheby’s on November 17th
Another triumph was Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (809-2), coming from the collection of Eric Clapton, which went for $22.1 million (with fees), with an initial estimate between $18 to $25 million. Mr Clapton – who had purchased the same picture at Sotheby’s in 2001 for $3.4 million – has now pocketed an overall return on his 15-year investment of $74 million, after selling a first Richter in 2012 for $34.3 million and then a second one in 2013 for $20.9 million. But how did Sotheby’s do? Their sale was on the 17th and closed the whole series of evening auctions. The final result was very similar: $276.6 million, with a stunning sold lot rate of 94%. A major role was played by the group of works coming from the collection of Steven and Ann Ames – if Meule by Monet represents the biggest industry excitement so far, this has undoubtedly been the prize consignment of the week. In order to win it over Christie’s, Sotheby’s had agreed a $100 million guarantee for the 9 pieces included in the evening sale (plus the additional 55 which were subsequently offered in the following day auction). The decision definitely paid off: $122.8 million raised. Needless to say, other lots were backed by external guarantors. 35 to be precise, more than half of the 64 featured in the catalogue.
Also with the works of the Ames Collection, the name of Gerhard Richter popped up again: the two most expensive lots were in fact by him, A.B. Still which sold for $34 million to a telephone bidder (it had been acquired in 1991 for $ 264.000) and A.B. St James which had entered the collection in 1989 and went for $22.7 million. On the contrary, expectations were not entirely fulfilled by Andy Warhol’s Fright Wig, an imposing silkscreen self-portrait which seemed to comfortably reach the threshold of $30 million but in the end did not go beyond $24.4 million. Before to conclude, a well-deserved mention to Phillips evening sale. Held in their NY headquarters on the 16th it achieved a total of $111.2 million, their highest-ever result for the category. On the podium, Gerhard Richter (strange enough!) with his Dϋsenjäger at $25.5 million, Roy Lichtenstein with Mirror Nudes at $21.5 million and finally Clyfford Still with Untitled at $13.6 million. Given Phillips significant recent growth, is the Christie’s-Sotheby’s centennial duopoly going to be at risk? The answer lies in the market…