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  • A tepid week of sales - New York marquee auctions, May 24

    Francis Bacon (1909 - 1992)

    Portrait of George Dyer Crouching

    Titled and dated 1966 (on the reverse)
    Oil on canvas,
    78 by 57 ⅞ in. (198 by 147 cm.)
    Executed in 1966

    Photo credit: Sotheby's

    Sotheby’s kicked off this month’s marquee New York auctions with two sales on Monday the 13th evening, one devoted to established contemporary artists, the other to emerging ones. Together, the two auctions brought in $267.3 million, for a total squarely within its presale estimate of $241.8 million to $350.4 million.

    All these sales were happening against the backdrop of concerns of a weakening market and fewer estates coming to the block than in previous years. Based simply on estimates alone, the sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips are down by around 18 percent compared to those held at this time in 2023. That may explain why the mood was filled with anxiety among buyers and consignors.


    Monday evening’s most expensive lot was Francis Bacon’s 1966 painting Portrait of George Dyer Crouching, the first of 10 full-scale portraits by Bacon depicting his lover George Dyer. The work on offer had been in the same collection for 54 years and came to auction with a $50 million high estimate. Unfortunately for Sotheby’s, it was a big flop, failing even to meet its low estimate; it ended up selling for $27.7 million (including premium).

    The evening started out with more modest sums in the Sotheby’s 18-lot “The Now” sale, devoted to the ultra-contemporary category, referring to emerging artists and ones just gaining momentum at auction.

    The big story of the evening was a 2019 Justin Caguiat painting called The saint is never busy. This young New York–based painter’s abstractions had only ever appeared at auction twice in the past. The result? A six-minute bidding war pushed the painting far beyond its $300,000 estimate, more than tripling that sum to sell for $1.09 million, a new record for Caguiat.


    Even though The Now sale generated some momentum, the contemporary sale couldn’t quite sustain the excitement of the evening’s first hour.

    Even discounting the underwhelming Bacon sale, other star lots also failed to deliver. A 1964 Lucio Fontana's Concetto Spazialepainting from the Rachofsky Collection threatened to topple the artist’s record altogether; with a $30 million high estimate, it didn’t even hammer at its $20 million low.

    A shaped canvas by Frank Stella, Ifafa I (1964), appeared on the block shortly after another big Stella sale. The painting hit the block with a $14 million low estimate and hammered right at that amount. Not even the artist’s death earlier this month did much to raise interest.

    Brice Marden Event 2004-7 Christies Ny May 24.

    At Christie’s, records were set for Diane Arbus, Gonzalez-Torres, Reggie Burrows Hodges, Ana Mendieta, and Martin Wong. On the downside, the sale was uneven, acting as further evidence of a contracting art market.

    Two sales were held on Tuesday night - preceded by the house’s website going down due to what it called a “technology security issue" -one devoted to the holdings of Miami collectors Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz, the other to contemporary art more broadly. The sale brought a hammer total of $28.1 million against an estimate from $25 million to $37 million.

    The night’s highest-estimated lot—Brice Marden’s Event (2004–7), tagged at up to $50 million—did not go to plan, however. The work was guaranteed to sell by Christie’s, but the house withdrew it at the last minute and thus now owns the canvas, which was expected to surpass Marden’s existing record, $30.9 million.

    Some 23 of the 25 de la Cruz works sold within or in excess of their estimates. Whereas The 21st century sale’s low estimate of $104 million was 5 percent higher than in 2023, and the sale had 30 percent more works than the same sale last year.


    The top lot from the 21st-century sale was a painting by market titan Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Italian Version of Popeye has no Pork in his Diet (1982), estimated at around $30 million. Despite there-sale excitement, the room went deadly still when auctioneer Georgina Hilton opened the bidding at $24 million. It reached a hammer price of $27.5 million after the auctioneer tried to eke bids out of phone specialists left and right.

    With the house’s fees, the 21st-century sale totaled $80.3 million, with 94 percent of lots offered finding buyers and 90 percent of the works selling within or above estimate.


    After Christie’s and Sotheby’s, it was Phillips turn, which continued the New York week of marquee auctions on Tuesday with a sale of modern and contemporary art. The Phillips sale brought in $86.3 million, coming in just below the auction’s $90 million pre-sale estimate. Still, this result marked an improvement over last year’s May New York auction held by Phillips, which brought in $69.5 million.

    The priciest lot was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (ELMAR), from 1982, one of 13 lots that hit the block with a third-party guarantee. Bearing a $60 million high estimate, it ultimately hammered for just a hair above its low estimate, at $40.2 million ($46.5 million including premium).

    Author: The Editor |Date: May 17, 2024