Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Totals $74,564,400

Explosive bidding in an overflowing sale room brought a total of $74,564,400, the second highest sales total for a Contemporary evening auction at Sotheby’s since 1989. Nineteen works sold for over $1 million, with the top selling lot of the evening, Willem de Kooning’s Abstract Expressionist masterpiece from 1959, Spike’s Folly I, bringing $11,208,000. Eleven works from the Estate of Vera G. List brought $8,246,800, well over the high estimate of $6.9 million and highlighted by Agnes Martin’s Leaves which brought a record $2,584,000, over a high estimate of $2.2 million. Seven auction records were set, including Hans Hofmann, Lee Bontecou, Brice Marden, Susan Rothenberg and a sculpture by Lichtenstein.

“Tonight was a fantastic success for the Contemporary Art market and for Sotheby’s,” commented Tobias Meyer, worldwide head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art department. “There was such tremendous depth in the bidding tonight that as the auctioneer, it was at times hard to keep up. We saw a new group of younger collectors participating who were not active three years ago, and they were aggressive for the works they wanted. Additionally, buyers of the top lots were predominantly European private collectors.” Mr. Meyer added that the auction this evening was one of Sotheby’s most profitable Contemporary sales ever.

Matthew Carey-Williams, Vice President of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department, commented: “We saw several important trends this evening, most notably that rare, minimalist works that are fresh to the market perform exceptionally well as evidenced by the record prices achieved for paintings and works on paper by Agnes Martin. Furthermore, the market for Abstract Expressionist artists continues to be strong with rare works of great quality, such as de Kooning’s Spike’s Folly I and Rothko’s No. 8 (White Stripe), achieving the top two prices this evening.”

Tonight’s top lot was Willem de Kooning’s monumental abstraction, Spike’s Folly I, an oil on canvas from 1959 which sold for $11,208,000 (est. $10/15 million). Originally purchased by legendary Contemporary collectors Ethel and Robert Scull from the Sidney Janis Gallery, this work stands as one of de Kooning’s greatest paintings from the late 1950’s.

Works by Mark Rothko continue to draw competition as evidenced by No. 8 (White Stripe) which brought $8,856,000 (est. $8/10 million). This large-format canvas from 1958 illustrates the artist’s absolute authority over color, surface, texture and composition, and resonates with the artist’s desire to create art that is beyond the very boundaries of painting, encompassing a transcendent, deeply affecting relationship between the viewer and the object.

The night began with intense competition for the works being offered by the Estate of Vera G. List, a dedicated art collector and lifelong philanthropist who passed away in October of 2002. The total of $8,246,800 far surpassed the $6.9 high estimate, with all eleven of the works offered finding buyers. The top lot was led by Agnes Martin’s Leaves, an acrylic and pencil on canvas from 1966, which brought $2,584,000 (est. $1.8/2.2 million), well above the previous auction record of $1,432,500. Tonight was a very strong showing for the artist whose Untitled work on paper brought $299,000 (est. $100/150,000), a record for a work on paper by Martin at auction. The second highest lot of the group was Ed Ruscha’s Not Only Securing the Last Letter, But Damaging It as Well (Boss), an oil on canvas from 1964 which brought $1,912,000. An auction record was also established for Lee Bontecou, whose Untitled work in welded steel, canvas, fabric and copper wire from 1959-1960 sold for $456,000, soaring over a $70,000 pre-sale estimate. An additional 53 works from the Estate of Vera G. List will be offered in Sotheby’s sale of Contemporary Art tomorrow, and Sotheby’s will also offer Property from this estate next year in London and New York, including paintings, prints, photographs and other works of art.

Also performing well were Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud which brought $3,816,000, over a $3.5 million estimate, and Barnett Newman’s White Fire which sold for $3,704,000 (est. $3/4 million).

Bidding was fierce for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Two Heads on Gold) from 1982. Indeed one of the artist’s most powerful compositions, this work soared above the $3.5 million high estimate to bring $4,600,000. Brice Marden’s 10 (Dialog 2) from 1987-88 set a record for the artist at auction when it sold for $2,472,000.

A bidding battle ensued for Roy Lichtenstein’s sculpture from 1996 entitled Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight. No fewer than five bidders competed for the work which finally sold for $2,136,000 (est. 1.5/2.0 million), a record for a sculpture by the artist at auction.

Published in: on November 14, 2003 at 10:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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