Auction Watch: Christie's Sales Commence Despite Cyberattacks

The Italian Version of Popeye has no Pork in his Diet by Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982Image © Christie's / The Italian Version of Popeye has no Pork in his Diet © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982
Joe Syer

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

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Christie’s commenced the first round of its million dollar New York sales as planned, initially in question due to a reported cyberattack, on Tuesday evening 14th of May. The auction house opened with the Rosa de la Cruz Collection, followed by the main event, the 21st Century Evening Sale. Despite challenges, the combined total of $94.6 million hammer ($114.6 million with fees) only fell 5% below the low presale estimate, showcasing remarkable resilience and dedication amidst potential catastrophe.

Christie’s “Technology Security Issue” and “The Incident” - What Happened?

On May 9th, Christie’s encountered a “technology security issue,” causing its website to go offline just before its crucial million-dollar sales. With little information, only an apology and assurance that the matter was being dealt with “appropriately” from the website, the art world speculated if, in fact, the sales would take place. In a subsequent email on Sunday, CEO Guillaume Cerruti assured the auctions would proceed, enabling online bidding via Christie’s Live. Cerruti reaffirmed the auctions' continuity, stating, “I want to assure you that we are managing this incident according to our well-established protocols and practices.” All eight live auctions in Geneva and New York would proceed as planned, ensuring minimal disruption.

And proceed they did, as scheduled, despite technological disruptions. While the de la Cruz collection performed well, the 21st Century sale faced challenges, resulting in hindered outcomes. Christie’s combined sales yielded the lowest total among rivals, Sotheby’s and Phillips. Two star lots in, a Jean-Michel Basquiat and a Brice Marden, were expected to fetch $30 million each; however, the Marden was withdrawn presale, significantly impacting final totals. Given Christie’s cyberattack history, where just last year consigned GPS information was made available through uploaded images, speculation arose regarding the withdrawal's cause. TheArtNewspaper reported that in a post sale conference, Cerruti clarified no withdrawals were due to the attack, expressing apologies and ensuring resolution. This is also not the end of Christie’s sales. The 20th Century sale, featuring an array of high-value blue chip work commences Thursday, 16th of May. Stay tuned for our updates on the sales.



Wool, C.Untitled by Christopher Wool 2011Image © Christie's / Wool, C.Untitled © Christopher Wool 2011

Christie’s Rosa De la Cruz Collection

The Stats

In its premiere showcase, Christie’s unveiled 25 artworks (excluding one presale withdrawal) from the esteemed Rosa De la Cruz Collection, a notable Miami art collector. This event marked the single New York sale to achieve a flawless 100% sell-through rate, amassing a total sales hammer of $28.1 million ($34.4 million with fees) and was also the only single owner collection presented among the auction houses. Private collections significantly bolster auction house revenues, making them highly sought-after. The de la Cruz event replaced the Gerald Fineberg collection Christie’s secured in 2023, which grossed $159.7 million, although the lots offered were eight times in comparison. Unlike last year, the Fineberg collection lacked house guarantees and notably underperformed its presale estimate. In contrast, Christie’s backed the entire de la Cruz sale, with the majority lots third-party guaranteed. This strategy is unsurprising as Sotheby’s and Phillips performed the same tactic, reflecting the level of confidence that consignors and auction houses were willing to bet on the sales.

The Highlights:

The de la Cruz sale set two auction records, notably Felix Gonzalez-Torres' Untitled (American #3) (1992), fetching an impressive $13.6 million. Despite setbacks from heavyweights like Peter Doig and Mark Grotjahn, both artists still performed favourably ranking as the second and third tope performers with million dollar sales. Most impressively however, Christopher Wool's market appears to be experiencing a resurgence, with Wool, C.Untitled (2011) exceeding its modest presale estimate of $800,000, fetching $1.2 million with fees. Wool has also performed favourably with works in Sotheby’s and Phillips sales as well.

Browse Christopher Wool prints on the Trading Floor and find out more about the print market growth on the MAB100 Print Index.

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Untitled by Keith Haring 1982 Image © Christie's / Untitled © Keith Haring 1982

Christie’s 21st Century Evening Sale

The Stats

Following the De La Cruz collection, Christie’s hosted the main event, the 21st Century evening sale, amassing $66.5 million (hammer) and $80.2 million with fees, 20% below 2023's figures. The sale comprised 32 lots, with two unsold and three withdrawn. Notably, Brice Marden’s Event (2004) was a significant withdrawal and the auction's star lot, estimated at a low estimate of $30 million. The three withdrawals would have added 49% to the final hammer price. Additionally, the second highest valued lot, Mont Sainte-Victoire #1 (1987) by Mark Tansey had a presale low estimate of $8 million, which also would have enhanced the total performance by 12% and been more reflective of Christie’s standard totals. Despite the cyberattack challenges, Christie’s achieved a commendable 93% sell-through rate, the highest among auction houses for the main event.

Here are the highlights:


Ocean Spray by Damien Hirst 2016 Image © Christie's / Ocean Spray © Damien Hirst 2016

Basquiat Leads

Even without the $30 million Marden, Basquiat once again shone. The Italian Version of Popeye has no Pork in his Diet (1982) was highly anticipated, featuring Basquiat's celebrated symbols and anatomy drawings. The bar stretcher canvas surpassed expectations, reaching $32 million with fees in its auction debut. Another Basquiat piece, Chicken Wings Three (1983), achieved $2.4 million, landing squarely within estimates with fees.

Explore our Jean-Michel Basquiat Investment Guide to learn more about his print market performance.

Blue Chip Heavyweights

Also making significant contributions to the sale were Keith Haring and Damien Hirst. Haring's Untitled (1982), a work on paper featuring his classic motifs, exceeded expectations, hammering at $2 million with fees. Hirst, though absent from other auctions, pleasantly surprised in Christie’s sale with Ocean Spray (2016), a large-scale piece reminiscent of his currency works. Making its auction debut, it surpassed the high estimate, achieving $882,000 with fees.

Explore our Keith Haring and Damien Hirst Investment Guide to learn more about his print market performance.

Women Artist’s Come Out Strong

Female artists demonstrated strength, with Yayoi Kusama notably excelling. Enlightenment Means Living a Life Unconcernedly (2008) from her Infinity Nets series surpassed expectations, achieving $4.4 million with fees, setting a new record and massive appreciation in value for the work in its second auction appearance. Elizabeth Peyton matched her auction record with Matthew (1970), while Lynette Yiadom-Boakye performed impressively above estimate along with Marina Perez Simão. Diane Arbus set an impressive new auction record of $1.1 million for her photograph Identical twins, (Cathleen and Colleen), Roselle, New Jersey (1966).

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Christie’s 20th Century Evening Sale

Christie’s 20th-century evening sale staged a robust and commendable response following the uncertainty caused by the cyberattack that initially threatened the auctions. The sale showcased a diverse, and impressive, array of high-value works from renowned artists, ranging from Modern art masters to Italian artists, women artists, surrealists and Post-War and Contemporary with heavyweight names, the sale was anticipated to perform strongly, and indeed, it surpassed expectations.

The Stats

In summary, the sale generated $346.5 million hammer ($413.3 million with fees), surpassing the low presale estimate by a small margin and exhibiting an impressive 25% increase compared to the same sale in 2023. With 61 lots on offer, the sale achieved a 95% sell-through rate. Notably, two lots were withdrawn before the sale, including a Lucio Fontana and an Andy Warhol, both estimated at $2 million each.

Performance-wise, only eight lots surpassed their estimates, while the majority (58%) fell below or remained unsold. However, among these works, 12 were valued at eight figures, and eight of these lots fell below estimate. This doesn't necessarily indicate poor performance, as these 12 lots collectively contributed $212 million to the total sale. Rather, it highlights the reality that higher-priced works can be more challenging to sell. Additionally, not all of these lots were secured with an irrevocable bid (IB) or house-backed guarantee.

Of the lots presented, Christie's successfully secured buyers for 24 lots and house-backed one, which is 40% of the sale, painting a picture of buyer confidence.

Here are the highlights:

Flowers by Andy Warhol 1964 Image © Christie's / Flowers © Andy Warhol 1964

Star Lots: Andy Warhol

The most valuable lot of the sale hailed from impressionist maestro Vincent van Gogh, featuring Coin de jardin avec papillons (1887), with an estimated value of $28 million. While this piece performed admirably, meeting expectations and realising $33.1 million with fees, it was not the top performer of the sale. As anticipated, the standout lot was a monumental, 200cm-wide iridescent orange and red Flowers (1964) by Warhol. At the presentation of this lot, Christie's dimmed the room, matching the colours of the work and strategically hyping the sale. This masterpiece, secured by an IB, exceeded expectations by hammering at an impressive $35.4 million with fees, more than doubling the previous record set by a Flower painting of the same size in 2022.

Explore our Andy Warhol Investment Guide to learn more about his print market performance.

Browse Andy Warhol prints on the Trading Floor and find out more about the print market growth on the MAB100 Print Index.

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A Lawn Being Sprinkled by David Hockney 1967Image © Christie's / A Lawn Being Sprinkled © David Hockney 1967

David Hockney

Another standout in terms of value was David Hockney. Hockney's presence in this round of May sales was distinctive. Notably absent from Phillips' evening sale, Hockney was featured in Sotheby’s sale with a rare, never-before-seen wave painting, and in Christie’s with an equally unique piece, A Lawn Being Sprinkled (1967), depicting a green lawn in the backyard of what appears to be a California house basking in the California sun. Every aspect of the artwork exudes Hockney's signature style: the Californian landscape and his unique interpretation of water. Making its auction debut, the piece hammered just below the low presale estimate at $25 million but achieved a commendable $28.5 million with fees, likely selling to the third-party guarantor by an IB.

Explore our David Hockney Investment Guide to learn more about his print market performance.

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Red Poppy by Georgia O'Keeffe 1928Image © Christie's / Red Poppy © Georgia O'Keeffe 1928

Women Artists: Georgia O’Keeffe and Helen Frankenthaler

One highly anticipated piece from women artists was Georgia O’Keeffe’s Red Poppy (1928), as her sought-after flower canvases become increasingly rare in the secondary market. In its second auction appearance, the first being in 1990, this work hammered at the upper echelon of its high estimate, setting a new benchmark for its resale value. It achieved a noteworthy $16.5 million with fees, ranking among O’Keeffe’s top-selling works.

Also performing exceptionally well and featured prominently across all auction houses in this round of May auctions was Helen Frankenthaler. Christie’s presented Elberta (1975), a large-scale vibrant orange soak-stained canvas with a swath of blue and yellow washing away in the corner. Making its auction debut, this work met expectations and achieved $4.2 million with fees.

Modern painting with Ionic Column by Roy Lichtenstein 1967 Image © Christie's / Modern Painting With Ionic Column © Roy Lichtenstein 1967

American Pop and Post-War: Who Hit and Who Missed

Among the American pop and post-war aficionados, there were notable successes, but also some short falls. Wayne Thiebaud's Star Pinball (1962) was eagerly anticipated, especially coinciding with the Aquavella exhibition in New York. However, this work fell short of the presale low estimate at the hammer, achieving $11.3 million with fees. Similarly, the masterful and remembered Frank Stella, while performing favourably in Sotheby’s sale, missed the mark in this auction, as was the case in Phillips', highlighting the unpredictability of markets for deceased masters.

On a more positive note, exhibiting impressive performance was Ed Ruscha's Truth (1973) in its first time auction appearance. Previously held in a private collection and unseen since 1980, this piece embodies Ruscha's classic style of a gradient backdrop with a single word across the centre, highly sought after by collectors. It hammered notably above the presale estimate, achieving $14.7 million with fees, and ranking among Ruscha's top-selling works.

Roy Lichtenstein enjoyed a particularly strong performance across all auction houses in this round of May sales. Modern Painting with Ionic Column (1967) made its second appearance in the secondary market, having been sold previously and not exhibited since 1978. Its comeback was commendable, achieving $7.3 million with fees. Additionally, one of the most impressive lots of the sale in terms of the hammer-to-estimate ratio performance was Lichtenstein’s I Love Liberty (Study) (1981). With a modest high estimate of $800,000, this work exceeded expectations with competitive bidding, hammering at 2.4 times that amount and achieving $2.3 million with fees in its auction debut.

Explore our Roy Lichtenstein Investment Guide to learn more about his print market performance.

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Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale

The Stats

Following standard procedure, Christie’s hosted the final premier event of the May New York sales, featuring the Post-War and Contemporary Art day sale on Friday, May 17th, while the Impressionist sales concluded the week the following Saturday. Despite challenges such as Christie’s website remaining offline, the Post-War and Contemporary day sale proceeded smoothly, with the auction viewable via YouTube and both in-person and online bidding options available. The sale amassed a total of $59.7 million at the hammer and $75.1 million with fees, with 237 lots sold, resulting in an 83% sell-through rate. In contrast to the corresponding sale last year, this event experienced a decline of -7%, largely due to the withdrawal and lack of sale of several of the highest-valued lots, including a Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild (1990) expected to fetch at least $1.8 million.

Here are the highlights:


Andy Warhol Comes Out On Top

In total, the sale featured nine lots anticipated to exceed $1 million each. The most valuable lot was Warhol's Marilyn Monroe (complete set) (1967). We've been closely tracking the performance of complete sets in the print market, noting a growing interest in these offerings, which hold a comparable level of investment appeal to unique works of art. While this set didn't set a new record, it stood out as the highlight of the sale, surpassing the 2023 high of £2.3 million with fees.

Demonstrating signs of potentially trending print works within Warhol’s body of work, Hammer and Sickle (1976) reached its estimate, achieving $414,000 (with fees), while Ladies and Gentlemen (1975), a unique silkscreen on canvas, hit the high estimate of $180,000 and sold for $226,800 with fees in its second auction appearance since 2015, when it sold for $197,000.

Warhol’s Toy Paintings (1983) consistently attract attention in day sales and remain in vogue. Sotheby’s day sale prominently featured multiple works from this series, with several setting new records. At Christie’s, Clockwork Panda Drummer matched the current record of $277,200, while Moon Explorer sold for $214,200 with fees, surpassing the high estimate.

Explore our Andy Warhol Investment Guide to learn more about his print market performance.

Browse Andy Warhol prints on the Trading Floor and find out more about the print market growth on the MAB100 Print Index.

LOOKING TO SELL YOUR WARHOL PRINTS?

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 Famous Negro Athletes by Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981Image © Christie's / Famous Negro Athletes © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981

Roy Lichtenstein

Another high-value piece was Lichtenstein’s Painting: Silver Frame (1984), a unique work blending Ben-Day dots and gestural painting. Although it fell slightly short of the low presale estimate, hammering at $950,000, this artwork realised $1.1 million with fees in its first-time auction appearance.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

In terms of hammer to estimate ratio performance, Basquiat’s performance in the day sales mirrored the success of his performance in the evening sales. Famous Negro Athletes (1981) a unique work on paper hammered above the high estimate of $700,000 and reached $907,200 with fees with a provenance linked directly to Basquiat himself.

Explore our Jean-Michel Basquiat Investment Guide to learn more about his print market performance.

Alex Katz

Alex Katz had a strong showing with Ada With Mirror (1969). This piece, featuring Katz's classic portrait style with meticulous attention to detail, sold for $650,000 at the hammer, meeting the high presale estimate in its second auction appearance, having previously sold in October 202 for £529,200. Establishing a new benchmark for its value, this artwork achieved $650,000 with fees. Additionally, Katz's Hope (2012) performed solidly, meeting expectations and realising $390,600 with fees. Pink Rose 3 (2012) underscored the growing popularity of Katz's landscape and foliage works, fetching $378,000 with fees, squarely within the estimated range. 10 A.M. (1994), depicting a water landscape scene, surpassed expectations, hammering impressively above estimates and achieving $68,040 with fees.

Tracey Emin

Lastly, Tracey Emin showed a commendable performance with a blue neon work, I Promise To Love You (2008), hammering impressively above its high estimate of $70,000 and achieving $176,400 with fees.

Don’t miss our comprehensive Auction Reports covering both Sotheby’s and Phillips' Evening and Day sales.

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