Auction Watch November 2023: New York Marquee Sales
Sotheby's Evening and Day Sales

Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two) by Jean-Michel Basquiat - Sotheby's 2023Image © Sotheby's / Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two) © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982
Joe Syer

Joe Syer, Co-Founder & Specialist[email protected]

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Sotheby's evening and day auctions have wrapped up the marquee auction lineup in New York with deserved applause, generating an impressive $206 million from their dual main evening sales. This figure significantly surpasses Christie's 21st-century sale, which achieved $88 million in comparison. Overall, Sotheby's evening sales were a delightful triumph, highlighted by a white-glove sale at The Now Auction and the sale of significant works by not only male, but female blue chip artists at substantial price points. In total, combining Sotheby's Contemporary Evening and Day auctions, the auction house amassed $326.7 million in sales.

Sotheby's Evening Sales

The Now and Contemporary Evening Auction (16/11 - Aggregate Total)

  1. Presale Estimate: $245,720,000 - $349,750,000
  2. Sales Total Hammer: $261,455,000
  3. Sell-through rate: 95%
    1. Above: 30% (19)
    2. Within: 36% (23)
    3. Below: 30% (19)
    4. Unsold: 5% (3)

In traditional Sotheby's fashion, the main Contemporary evening sale commenced with The Now, a dedicated section featuring the most current Post War artists. This segment comprised 18 lots culminating in a flawless, white-glove sale. Surpassing expectations by 6% and achieving a hammer price of $46.7 million, this sale significantly contributed to the overall sales total and established five new auction records. The standout piece of the evening was Jenny Saville's Shift (1996-97), which realised $10,905,300 (including fees) and Jadé Fadojutimi also concluded her impressive run on a high note, with Tether Towards Me (2019) achieving $1,814,500 (including fees). While Fadojutimi's result didn't surpass the recent record set in Phillips' sale, it did outperform A Thistle Throb (2021), which realised $1.6 million in Christie's sale.

Sotheby's main event, the Contemporary evening sale also performed exceptionally well, achieving a total hammer price of $214.7 million and boasting an impressive 93% sell-through rate. This success was largely attributed to 28 out of 43 lots finding buyers above their estimates, a feat that eluded many other auctions. Following a similar pattern to The Now sale, women artists delivered strong performances, providing a refreshing and welcomed dimension to the auction.

Here are the highlights:

Honduras Lottery Co. by Frank Stella - Sotheby's 2023Image © Sotheby's / Honduras Lottery Co. © Frank Stella 1962

Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale: Star Lots

Gerhard Richter, Frank Stella, Jean-Michel Basquiat

Gerhard Richter and Frank Stella both delivered remarkable performances in this auction. Richter's Abstraktes Bild (1997) showcased exceptional quality. Although it didn't quite reach the price achieved for a 1980s Abstraktes Bild at a Phillips sale, this 1990s canvas achieved $31,932,000 (including fees). This sale marked the artwork's first time auction appearance and secured its position as Richter's second-highest selling piece in 2023, also ranking as the second highest-selling lot of the sale.

Stella's Honduras Lottery Co. (1962) also graced the auction. This masterpiece epitomises the zenith of Stella's versatile career and belongs to a limited suite of six Concentric Squares he painted in the same year. These works are accredited among Stella's most iconic paintings and this work marks Stella's second highest-valued work realising $18,718,500 (including fees) against a $15 million high estimate.

Last but certainly not least, Jean-Michel Basquiat emerged as the undeniable star of the evening. Basquiat's remarkable success in the art market this year defies easy definition, especially considering the challenging economic backdrop. Basquiat's Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two) (1982) achieved $42,000,000 (including fees). This marked the artwork's first appearance at auction since 1999 when it sold for a comparatively modest $772,500 (including fees) at Christie's. Over the span of 24 years, the painting's value has astonishingly multiplied by 54 times. In 2023, it stands as the second-highest selling Basquiat piece and ranks among his top ten most valuable works. This artwork boasts a prestigious exhibition history and made its debut in his inaugural West Coast exhibitions at Larry Gagosian Gallery, where it prominently featured.

All of the above works were auction house backed and third-party guaranteed.

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View From Terrace III by David Hockney - Sotheby's 2023Image © Sotheby's / View From Terrace III © David Hockney 2003

Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale: Male Performers

David Hockney and Roy Lichtenstein

Other outstanding performances were observed in our favourite Pop Art and Contemporary collection. A substantial landscape canvas, View From Terrace III (2003) by David Hockney fetched $7,228,500 (including fees), surpassing its high estimate by 20%. This painting, bathed in the vibrant California sunlight serves as an example of Hockney's rare watercolour depictions of his Hollywood Hills residence, explaining its initial acquisition by L.A. Louver in Venice, California.

Roy Lichtenstein's Forms In Space (1985) was eagerly awaited by art enthusiasts, particularly because the screenprint of this artwork had garnered attention in previous prints and multiples auctions, appearing once in April and twice in October, with its value appreciating with each successive sale. This acrylic on canvas, featuring Lichtenstein's iconic pop art interpretation of the American flag, carried a high estimate of $2 million. In its first-ever auction appearance, this piece realised $2,964,000 (including fees). This sale set a record, as only one other version of this work had ever appeared at auction—an uncommon black, white, and red colour variation that sold at Phillips in 2011 for $1.5 million.

Lichtenstein's Forms In Space was auction house backed and third-party guaranteed.

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Joseph Beuys by Andy Warhol - Sotheby's 2023Image © Sotheby's / Joseph Beuys © Andy Warhol 1980

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol's art, consistently emanating a star quality and charisma reminiscent of the artist himself, placed a spotlight on a screenprint showcasing the eccentric and unconventional German artist and educator Joseph Beuys. This artwork didn't go unnoticed, realising $1,016,000 (including fees), which was 1.3 times its high estimate. This sale marks a second time auction appearance having previously sold in 1997, also at Christie's, where it fetched $200,500. This sale represents an impressive fivefold increase in value over the years.

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Harmless Woman by Louise Bourgeois - Sotheby's 2023Image © Sotheby's / Harmless Woman © Louise Bourgeois 1969-1981

Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale: Female Performers

Georgia O’keeffe and Lousie Bourgeois

Sotheby's auction also witnessed noteworthy performances by women artists. The renowned Georgia O'Keeffe graced the sale with her presence with Pelvis (1943). This work achieved $3,206,000 (including fees), exceeding the high estimate by 1.8 times. O'Keeffe's fascination with bones, which she discovered scattered across the New Mexico desert, led her to create these works, exploring their abstract juxtaposition against the sky. These pieces marked a revolutionary addition to O'Keeffe's body of work.

Louise Bourgeois also performed prominently with her white marble sculpture Harmless Women, conceived in 1969 and crafted in 1981. This is a unique work exuding femininity, elegance and vulnerability. The sculpture, depicting a pregnant female torso, made its first appearance at auction and achieved $1,512,000 (including fees), exceeding its $1 million high estimate.

Sotheby's Contemporary Day Sale

Sotheby's Contemporary Day Sale (16/11 - Live)

  1. Presale Estimate: $72,816,000 - $105,146,000
  2. Sales Total Hammer: $65,338,000
  3. Sell-through rate: 82%
    1. Above: 25% (81)
    2. Within: 28% (90)
    3. Below: 29% (94)
    4. Unsold: 17% (56)

Sotheby's Contemporary Day Sale, following the evening auctions, premiered on November 16th. It featured a significant 321 lots, with 265 finding buyers. Sotheby's results were comparable to Christie's, which presented 258 works in their Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale, with 220 finding buyers but achieving a lower hammer total of $53 million, 1.2 times less than Sotheby's results.

Sotheby's presented an array of high-value lots, including Joan Mitchell's Untitled abstracted oil on canvas, which emerged as the top performer, fetching $3.1 million at the hammer. Notable performances also came from none other than American pop blue chip artists.

Here are the highlights:

Rorschach by Andy Warhol - Sotheby's 2023Image © Sotheby's / Rorschach © Andy Warhol 1982

Sotheby's Day Sale Top Performers

Andy Warhol

Early in the sale, an artwork by Warhol paid tribute to the 20th-century master Pablo Picasso, aptly titled Head (After Picasso) (1985). Inspired by Picasso's prolific output, Warhol sought to emulate his ability to create a vast body of work. Through his screenprinting technique, Warhol melded histories and endeavoured to achieve a similar volume. Warhol's interpretation of Picasso's narrative achieved a commendable result, realising $2,359,000, surpassing its $1.5 million high estimate by 1.6 times.

Another work by Warhol that performed notably was Rorschach (1982). This enigmatic composition of black, fluid forms departs from the traditional Warholian aesthetic, aiming to provoke open interpretations and individual visions. The title draws directly from the Rorschach test, named after the renowned Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach, known for psychological tests through inkblots on paper for patients to interpret. A larger canvas version of this work had previously sold handsomely in Sotheby's Contemporary Evening sale the day before, realising $2,601,000 (including fees). This smaller iteration of the piece exceeded its $200,000 high estimate in this day sale at the hammer, ultimately achieving $406,400 (including fees).

Warhol's Rorschach was auction house backed and third-party guaranteed.

Untitled (Caucasian / Negro) (1985) by Jean-Michel Basquiat - Sotheby's 2023Image © Sotheby's / Untitled (Caucasian / Negro) © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1985

Roy Lichtenstein and Jean-Michel Basquiat

In the day sale, Lichtenstein and Jean-Michel Basquiat also delivered remarkable performances. Lichtenstein's work mirrored one previously offered at Phillips by the Triton Collection Foundation, albeit in a smaller version. Sotheby's valued Woman Contemplating Yellow Cup (1995), edition 3/6, slightly lower than at the Phillips sale yet the work still achieved the same price of $1,996,000 (including fees).

Basquiat continued to impress with a work on paper, demonstrating the demand for his art across various mediums. Untitled (Caucasian / Negro) (1985) juxtaposes both a “Caucasian’’ and a “Negro’’ figure beneath a cloud of symbols above the Caucasian character. This piece realised $854,000 (including fees), surpassing the $800,000 high estimate.

Basquiat's Untitled (Caucasian / Negro) was auction house backed and third-party guaranteed.

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