In the whirlwind of New York's marquee auctions, Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary day sale commenced on Friday, November 10th and the Impressionist & Modern Art sale carried over onto the following Saturday. In contrast to the main evening sales, the 21st-century day auction performed with a 1.9-fold boost compared to the 20th-century sale. Christie's has now concluded its marquee week with a sales total hammer of $809 million across 5 sales. While Sotheby's and Phillips gear up to take the final stage throughout the rest of the week, Christie’s has set the stage for the closing of the Modern & Contemporary art sales of 2023.
In the arena of Christie's Post-War & Contemporary day sale, 85% of the offered artworks found new homes, with 220 of the 258 pieces showcased successfully changing hands. This day sale, in a notable contrast to the evening sales, presented a more optimistic narrative: 69% of these works achieved or surpassed their presale estimates, a clear indication of robust collector interest and confidence. This performance underscores a continuing trend we've observed in the auction world — the sustained demand and the investment value collectors place on pieces falling within the price ranges that the day sales present.
While some artworks in the auction fell short of their anticipated values, the overall picture painted a vivid representation of the market's top performers, including heavyweight blue chip stars we've become accustomed to throughout the year: Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and David Hockney. George Condo also had a strong showing, with The Psychoanalytic Puppeteer Losing His Mind realising an impressive $1,197,000 (including fees), surpassing its high estimate of $500,000. Another standout performer, though not exactly blue chip calibre, was Ernie Barnes, whose work The Master Table (1969) dramatically exceeded expectations by fetching $478,800 (including fees), nearly three times its highest estimate. Additionally, from the ultra-contemporary sector, both Issy Wood and Gary Simmons delivered impressive results, far-surpassing their estimated values. These achievements underscore the strategic buying approach among collectors who may be placing bets on emerging or lesser-known artists to make a significant impact in the market in the years to come.
However, the central storyline revolves around the ongoing supremacy of blue chip artists, particularly with Warhol and Basquiat leading the way. These icons have consistently held the market's attention. Their markets have displayed remarkable resilience even in the face of fluctuating economic conditions, remaining a cornerstone of the 2023 auction scene. Their performance in Christie's day sale served as yet another testament to their prominence.
Here are the highlights:
The complete set of Warhol's Endangered Species (1983) was on our watchlist. In our Warhol Q1 market report, we predicted that these works would be in high demand this year. The ten iconic screenprints, marked as edition 83 of 150, sold for $3,438,000 (including fees) marking a new record price for this work and ranking as Warhol's top-selling print in 2023. This same editioned set sold initially in 1991 for a mere $45,000, this sale represents an astonishing 76-fold increase in value.
This sale was backed by an auction house guarantee.
Among other standout pieces on our watch list was Warhol's Flowers (1965). The red hibiscus set against a monochrome backdrop performed impressively, achieving $1,320,500 (including fees) in its first-ever auction appearance. A similar work with yellow flowers against a green background sold for $3.4 million at Christie's 20th Century evening sale. The difference in value can be attributed to buyer preferences, with the green background proving more popular. Additionally, Warhol's Prince (1984) portrait featuring the flamboyant music icon, reached $756,000 (including fees). This work had previously sold at Sotheby's in 2015 for £112,500.
Warhol's Prince was backed by an auction house and third-party guarantee.
Lastly, Warhol's 1983 Toy Paintings emerged as a trending series in this sale. These works are unique as they appear less frequently in the market compared to the infamous Marilyn and Soup Cans. Clockwork Panda Drummer (Toy Painting) set a record by achieving $277,200 (including fees), outperforming a similar work in a different colour variation at Christie's in May 2023. Robot (Toy Painting) followed closely, realising $252,000 (including fees), also setting a new record compared to its sale in 2021 at Bukowski's auction for £85,698 (hammer). Fish (Toy Painting) achieved $189,000, ranking third among these works and also setting records against its previous sale in 2015 for £78,351 in Versailles, France. These unique pieces showcase Warhol's childhood toys and were commissioned by Warhol's friend and gallerist, Bruno Bischofberger, for a children's exhibition in Zurich. Their desirability was evident, having performed without auction house or third-party guarantees.
In the prudent 2023 art market landscape, the indomitable presence of Basquiat continued to reign supreme. He made a striking appearance with a previously unseen work, an Untitled acrylic on wood piece created in 1981. This life-sized artwork featured a skeletal figure, akin to his anatomy works, dominantly positioned at its centre. A halo envelops the head, and one of Basquiat's iconic crowns adorns the feet – these commanding symbols, intrinsic to Basquiat's style, assert not only the artist's royal and divine presence but also that of the depicted figure. This exceptional artwork achieved a remarkable sale price of $3,075,000 (including fees) and claimed the honour of being the third highest-selling piece in the sale.
Meanwhile, Haring also enjoyed a strong showing in the auction, with four of his works finding eager buyers. Among these works, Untitled (1981), created using felt-tip markers and paint pen on plastic, features Haring's signature motifs as playful dogs leap through the centre of a central figure against a backdrop of vibrant blue. This artwork made its second appearance at auction and realised an impressive $478,800 (including fees), surpassing its high estimate of $300,000.
Basquiat's Untitled was backed by an auction house and third-party guarantee.
Turning our attention to Hockney, although he had a limited presence in Christie's evening sales, he more than compensated for it with his success in the day sale, where two of his works performed exceptionally well. The eagerly anticipated highlight was Hockney's The Director's Chair, a unique piece created in 1976 that made its auction debut. This artwork exudes Hockney's quintessential Hollywood inspiration. Depicting Billy Wilder's director's chair, the famous Hollywood filmmaker renowned for his portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and James Bond in some of his most acclaimed films. This work was a gift to Wilder from Hockney himself and commanded $138,600 (including fees).
Making its second appearance at auction was The Student: Homage to Picasso (1973), an artist's proof with an edition of 2/15. This work sold for $40,320 (including fees) an impressive 2.7 times the high estimate of $15,000. This sale marked a record price for this work, as it had last changed hands at Christie's in 2022, for £16,380. This artwork is currently exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery as part of David Hockney's: Drawing from Life.
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