For better or worse, the very top of the auction market is its own little world. If a painting that’s expected to fetch US$20 million sells for US$30 million at Christie’s, that doesn’t say much about the market for US$20,000 paintings 60 blocks south in a Lower East Side gallery. Analysing the top of the market, in other words, has implications for, well, the top of the market.
But for those who do have a stake in US$20 million-plus paintings, this was a fairly interesting week at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips in New York. At those auction houses’ impressionist, modern, post-war, and contemporary sales, international collectors demonstrated a continued interest in the same handful of artists as last November’s auctions, which, in turn, faithfully mirrored the top lots from the May season that preceded it.
In November, the top performers included work by Vincent Van Gogh, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, and Mark Rothko – and Leonardo da Vinci, but we can be fairly certain that was an exception. The May 2017 sales saw a few others added to the mix including Jean-Michel Basquiat and Constantin Brancusi.
This season’s top 10 lots were a mix of all of the above (as you can see below).
There were signs, though, that a changing of the guard might be imminent. Just one price tier below this year’s top lots were a grouping of comparatively fresh faces. Paintings by Kerry James Marshall and David Hockney sold for a stunning US$21.1 million and US$28.5 million, respectively, at Sotheby’s; a painting by Mark Bradford sold for US$7.6 million at Christie’s.
All three artists, in contrast with the ones listed below, are still alive.
In the meantime, the top of the market remains lofty: the top 10 lots sold for a combined US$587.4 million in the span of just a week.
1. Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu couché (Sur le côté gauche), US$157.2 million
Painted in 1917, and sold at Sotheby’s.
2. Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition, US$85.8 million
Painted in 1916, and sold at Christie’s.
3. Constantine Brancusi’s La Jeune Fille Sophistiquée (Portrait de Nancy Cunard), US$71 million
Conceived in 1928, cast in 1932, and sold at Christie’s.
4. Francis Bacon’s Study for a Self-Portrait, US$49.8 million
Painted in 1977 and sold at Christie’s.
5. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Flexible, US$45.3 million
Executed in 1984 and sold at Phillips.
6. Vincent Van Gogh’s Vue de l’asile et de la Chapelle Saint-Paul de Mausole (Saint-Rémy), US$39.7 million
Painted in 1889 and sold at Christie’s.
7. Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis, US$37 million
Painted in 1963 and sold at Christie’s.
8. Pablo Picasso’s Le Repos, US$36.9 million
Painted in 1932 and sold at Sotheby’s.
9. Jackson Pollock’s Number 32, US$34 million
Painted in 1949 and sold at Sotheby’s.
10. Mark Rothko’s No 7 (Dark Over Light), US$30.7 million
Painted in 1964 and sold at Christie’s.