Fall 2019 Auction Roundup: Young Artists Bring Big Returns Amidst an Otherwise Humdrum Season

This year’s Fall modern and contemporary auctions in New York were once again a mixed bag: there were no real headline-grabbers, and there even a handful of flops. But there were also some bright spots; several records were set, and as blue-chip artists become more and more out of reach for most collectors, more buyers are purchasing younger contemporary artists’ work at auction, especially those artists for whom there’s a waiting list on the gallery circuit.

Ahead of the sales there was cautious speculation of how global turmoil—Brexit, protests in Hong Kong, and the Trump impeachment inquiry—could impact the art market. Once again, there’s mixed data on this; while there is generally some soft market contraction, there was spirited bidding this season from Asia, including Yoshitomo Nara’s smashing new auction record of $25 million at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, despite its political upheaval. And although the fall New York auctions were more subdued than the last few years, sell-through rates were still strong, and every auction sold within its pre-sale estimate range. Ultimately, despite some soft contraction, the art industry survived 2019 with few scratches. Let’s recap some of the auction highlights, starting with the Impressionist and Modern sales, and move our way up to contemporary.

Artnet sales by price chart
Less paintings sold above $10 million in 2019 than previous years–but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Chart courtesy of artnet.com

Generally, the Impressionist and Modern category slowly continues to downshift in value; Christie’s and Sotheby’s Imp & Mod evening sales this fall were down 52% and 40% respectively from the equivalent sales in May. But it is important to remember that there were some blockbuster artworks offered in May: Monet’s Mueles (1890) set a record at Sotheby’s for any Impressionist work at $110.7 million, and works from the esteemed S.I. Newhouse collection gave Christie’s Imp & Mod sale a $100 million boost.

Boccioni - Unique Forms
Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913 (1972 cast), set a record for the artist.

Christie’s took in $191.9 million (with buyer’s premium) against a pre-sale estimate of $138–203 million; this was a 31% drop from the equivalent sale last November of $279.3 million. Only sixteen of the 58 lots had in-house or third-party guarantors, which accounted for about $53.3 million of the total sale. One of the great highlights of the sale was Umberto Boccioni’s Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio (Unique Forms of Continuity in Space), the artist’s undisputed masterpiece. Boccioni was one of the founding members of Italian Futurism, and just as his work was maturing, he tragically died in 1916 during a training exercise in World War I, at the age of 33. With a curtailed body of work, Christie’s specialists noted that this was a difficult lot to price; it is only the second time in a century that one of Boccioni’s sculptures has been offered at auction. The auction house conservatively estimated the work at $3.8–4.5 million, but the bronze busted past its high estimate to sell for a record $16.2 million, with fees.

Caillebotte - Richard Gallo portrait
Gustave Caillebotte’s Richard Gallo et son chien Dick, au Petit-Gennevilliers (1894)

Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale outperformed Christie’s, raking in $209 million; unfortunately, this was still far below the equivalent sale from May ($349.8 million) or last November ($315.4 million). One of the gems of the evening was Gustave Caillebotte’s Richard Gallo et son chien Dick, au Petit-Gennevilliers (1894), a large, richly-painted portrait of his friend walking along the Seine. But the painting generated less interest than Sotheby’s anticipated, selling just inside its low estimate at $19.7 million, with fees. A happier outcome occurred for Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka’s La Tunique Rose of 1927, depicting a solidly-built, reclining woman in a red slip. The lovely modernist painting surpassed its high estimate of $8 million, as well as the artist’s previous auction record of $9.1 million, selling for $13.4 million with fees.

Lempicka - La Tunique Rose
Tamara de Lempicka, La Tunique Rose (1927), set a record for the Polish artist.

Moving on to the Contemporary market: Christie’s topped the evening sales with $325.3 million, which was squarely in the middle of its $270.3–397.8 million estimates. This is a 9% downturn from the same sale in November 2018, but it is worth noting last year’s $357.6 million sale was augmented by David Hockney’s $90.3 million Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures). 24 of the 54 lots offered this year had third-party guarantees. Despite promoting the “fresh to market” appeal of the works (all but three of the 54 lots had not been offered in at least ten years), 43% of lots hammered below their low estimate. But this contraction in the market was countered by a few bright spots.

Ruscha - Hurting the Word Radio #2
Ed Ruscha, Hurting the Word Radio #2 (1964), was the highlight of Christie’s contemporary evening sale.

The standout of the evening was Ed Ruscha’s Hurting the Word Radio #2 (1964), a great, early example of Ruscha’s more conceptual approach to Pop, which achieved $52.5 million with fees. Another lovely offering was a rediscovered Hockey painting called Sur la Terrasse of 1971, which hasn’t been shown publicly since 1973. Encouraged by last year’s record Hockney sale, the Christie’s specialists estimated Sur la Terrasse to reach $25–45 million. Unfortunately, this proved to be ambitious; the painting hammered under estimate, and only reached $29.5 million with fees.

Hockney - Sur La Terrasse
David Hockney, Sur la Terrasse (1971)

Sotheby’s Postwar & Contemporary evening sale brought in $270.5 million with an 89% sell-through rate, which was down 25% from November’s 2018 sale ($362.6 million). Artnet reports that the top bidders of the night seemed to be hailing from Asia: Sotheby’s head of contemporary art for Asia bid on behalf of one client who spent $54.4 million, or 20% of the value of the total sale. This buyer purchased the top lot of the evening, Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XXII (1977) for $30.1 million, as well as Clyfford Still’s PH-399 (1946) for $24.3 million, well over its $18 million high estimate. But other lots did not fare as well: one high-profile work was a Francis Bacon Pope painting deaccessioned from the Brooklyn Museum, which sold for $6.6 million against an estimate of $6-8 million. And works by Hans Hofmann, Robert Motherwell and David Hockney all passed unsold.

The market for artists of color and women artists continue to rise, with records set and re-set for several artists this season. On the heels of a retrospective exhibition at Mnuchin Gallery, Alma Thomas set a new record when her 1970 painting Fantastic Sunset sold at Christie’s for $2.7 million with fees. Also riding the success of his retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art, Charles White set a new auction record, only to have it broken the next day: his painting Banner for Willie J (1976) sold at Christie’s for $1.2 million, followed by his work on paper Ye Shall Inherit the Earth (1953), which sold for $1.8 million at Sotheby’s. Also at Sotheby’s, Norman Lewis’s Ritual (1962) sold for $2.8 million, trumping his previous record of $956,000; and Kerry James Marshall had another eight-figure sale when his painting Vignette 19 sold for $18.5 million, just a few million shy of his $21.1 million record for Past Times, sold to P. Diddy a few years ago.

White - Ye Shall Inherit the Earth
Charles White, Ye Shall Inherit the Earth (1953), set a record for any medium by the artist.

As the .001% continues to push prices at the top of the market beyond the reach of collectors, more buyers are taking the risk to purchase art by emerging artists at auction, paying incredible amounts for some artists who are not quite “market tested.” Reviewing the day sales, rather than evening sales, is very eye-opening in this regard: Michael Armitage’s The Conservationists (2015), was estimated at $50,000–70,000 when offered at Sotheby’s contemporary day sale; the painting soared to $1.52 million, over twenty-one times its high estimate. Tschabalala Self’s Star, also from 2015, sold at Phillips for $350,000, nearly triple its high estimate of $120,000. Based on retail data, artnet speculates that Star probably only cost $10,000 when it was first offered in a gallery in 2015. Noah Davis, who died tragically in 2015 from cancer, had his first artwork offered at auction this year in May, selling for $47,500, well-past its $10,000–15,000 estimate. At Phillips this fall, his painting Single Mother with Father out of the Picture sold for $168,750, far outperforming its $40,000–60,000 estimate. Notably, all these young artists are also artists of color, yet again underscoring the craze for collecting artists that have, in previous generations, been marginalized.

Armitage - Conservationists
Michael Armitage, The Conservationists (2015), sold more than twenty-one times its high estimate.

With the presidential election on the horizon in 2020, the market will likely contract a little more, as it did during the 2016 election cycle. As has been the case the past few years, there will be some standout works that will tantalize the market, such as the likely forthcoming sale of the famous (or infamous) Macklowe Collection. In my honest opinion, it would not be the end of the world if the market contracted a little bit; to quote one of my favorite artists, Gerhard Richter, “It’s not good when [my art] is the value of a house.” Even with a slight softening, the art market will likely continue to be quite healthy; that is, Richter’s work will always be the cost of a house. A very nice, very big house. In the Hamptons. With a helipad.

See you 2020. Peace, love and art!

Appraising 101: How I do what I do

When I tell people I am an appraiser, it usually gets a Coooool!! response, followed by many questions: Like the people on Antiques Roadshow? Or How does one appraise a work of art? Or Can you take a look at this thing my grandma gave me? [Takes out cell phone to show me photos…]

And when someone engages my services, there is often a lot of explanation required to help them understand why, for instance, they can’t submit their insurance appraisal to the IRS for gift tax purposes; or how the prices they saw on 1stdibs.com are completely unrelated to what they’ll get for selling the same piece; or that, as cute as their collection of beanie babies is, Christie’s isn’t interested, so they’re better off donating it.

So, for today’s blog post, I thought I would lay out a little Appraising 101, so now when someone ask me how I do what I do, I can just send them this convenient, comprehendible and fun (emphasis on fun!) article.

*Disclaimer*: reading this article does not qualify you to go out and start appraising property. For any occasion requiring an appraisal—insurance, divorce, donations, tax liability, collateral, etc.—you are encouraged (and usually required) to engage the services of a qualified, USPAP-compliant appraiser, with membership in a vetted, professional appraisers’ association (such as myself).

First – what is an appraisal?

An appraisal is an opinion of the value of an object, based on available market data of the same or similar objects. It is important to stress that an appraisal is an opinion: an educated—and hopefully substantiated—projection or estimation of value.

So Emily, what’s this worth?

Let’s say someone comes to me and says, Hey Emily, I have this artwork by Artie McArtyface. What’s it worth?

Clients Black X - Artie McArtyface

The answer is: it depends! Because objects have multiple values. Yes, that’s right: objects have various values, which are determined by the context and circumstances of the sale. The purpose of the appraisal determines what kind of value I use.

Below are some of the more common values appraisers use, and the purposes for which they are used. Now I promise, the definitions below are as dry and boring as my article will get. Note that these are simplified definitions, and there are exceptions; the determined value is on a case by case basis.

Retail/Replacement Value: Retail Replacement Value or Replacement Value (RV), is how much it costs to replace something by buying the same/similar piece in a retail setting (i.e. gallery, dealer, etc.). This value is most typically used for insurance inventory appraisals or damage/loss claims.

Fair Market Value (FMV): A sale between a willing buyer and willing seller, neither under compulsion to buy/sell, in the most appropriate market (i.e. auction value including buyer’s premium). This value is typically used for Estate tax liability, charitable donation, gift tax, equitable distribution (e.g. divorce), and other purposes.

Marketable Cash Value (MCV): The value realized, net of expenses, by a willing seller disposing of property in the most appropriate market (i.e. the fair market value, minus fees, etc.). For example: a seller sells a painting at auction, and it hammers at $50,000. The seller must pay a 10% commission to the auction house, plus the 1.5% insurance fee, a $250 photography fee, and $200 transportation fee. So the client nets $43,800 = MCV. MCV is often used in equitable distribution (e.g. divorce settlements) or collateral asset appraisals.

Liquidation Value (LV): The price realized in a sale situation under forced or limiting conditions and/or time restraints (i.e. seized asset sales, fire sales, etc.).

Salvage Value (SV): The value of an abandoned (usually damaged) property. Commonly, this value is what an insurance company might get for selling repossessed property, so it comes into play for damage and loss claims.

Back to Artie McArtyface… 

So my prospective client clarifies that he wants to donate Artie McArtyface’s work to the National Museum of Cultural Heritage, and wants to submit an appraisal to the IRS to get a tax deduction for the value of the work. Now that I know the purpose of the appraisal, I know I will use the fair market value, and must research the artist’s auction market.

The Research…

The first place to start with research is with the client and the object itself: where did the client get it? Did he buy it at auction, or a gallery? Or was it inherited from his parents? Does he have a sales receipt? Any previous appraisals conducted on the piece? Was it ever exhibited in a museum exhibition? Firsthand inspection of the work is preferable, but the IRS will accept review by photographs if necessary.

Sometimes a client will dig up a sales receipt—irrefutable proof that grandma spent $100,000 on the piece! And the sales receipt looks like this:

Slide3

Attention! Atención! Beachtung! The market for art and antiques, like any other market, fluctuates over time (remember my beanie babies joke?). So, sadly, the price grandma paid for something in 1952 (or 1852) has no bearing on the current value of the work. A sales receipt from 1952 is helpful to understand the authenticity and provenance of an item—that is, its history of ownership. But value-wise, generally speaking the last 5 years of sales data are most relevant to an appraiser, particularly for auction records.

What determines or impacts value?

Once I know everything I need to know about my client’s piece, I need to do my market research. This means finding recent auction values for comparable works (colloquially abbreviated to “comps”) to my client’s artwork. To use a shorthand phrase, we’re looking for works in LKQ: “Like Kind and Quality.”

What factors do I have to consider when comparing works of art? What qualities of a work of art impact or determine its value?

Well, we can start with the obvious ones:

Size

Small Medium Large Black X

Yes, it does matter. 

Originals, Multiples & Reproductions

Black X ed 3-50

Is the work a completely unique work, like a handpainted oil on canvas painting? Or is it a print, in which the artist used a printing press to make 50 copies of the same image? Or is it a print or poster after an original work of art—like when a museum sells prints or posters of its most famous painting? Of course, it would be a big mistake to use a Picasso poster as a comp for a signed Picasso print!

Subject

Nude X

Not all subjects are created equal. Is it a landscape? A genre scene? A portrait? A universal truth of humans is that we’re horndogs: a nude portrait of a woman will sell better than that same woman with her clothes on. 

Date

Old X

An artist’s skill and style can change dramatically over a lifetime: their early work may not be as developed as their “mature” works; or perhaps their early work is figurative, which collectors prefer to their later works, after the artist pulled an “180” into abstraction.

Let’s say Artie McArtyface died in 2010 at the age of 90, and was making art right up until his death. In his old age, his hand was not as steady, and his X series from later in life does not have the bold strength and presence of the earlier Xs. Perhaps collectors prefer the Xs from the 1960s to the Xs from the 1990s and 2000s.

Condition

Damaged Black X Repaired Black X

Any damage, or repaired damage? What’s the quality of the repair—was it Cecilia Giménez-ed? Or conserved by a trained professional?

Formal qualities

 

The old adage “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is only true to a point. Believe it or not, humankind has come to a consensus on the aesthetic appeal of certain colors and shapes, and how they’re arranged (also known as composition). How many people say their favorite color is blue? And how many people say their favorite color is poo brown? That’s what I thought.

That’s all to say that an artist will not make a museum-quality piece every time: there’s a range in the quality of the work, and the market prices will reflect the consensus on quality. The ability to analyze and compare the formal qualities of art or objects is honed over years of expertise and education—so again, make sure you’re hiring a qualified appraiser (such as myself).

Provenance

 

Queen Beyonce X

The provenance, or history of ownership, of a work of art can have an impact on value. For instance, if a celebrity or person of historical importance owned something, it usually increases the value of the item.

Oftentimes there are gaps in the provenance for a work of art, as not everyone keeps sales records or receipts over decades, or even centuries. When an artwork has a solid and continuous provenance, that will give buyers more confidence that it’s authentic, and not stolen. By contrast, if a work of art has a gap in provenance from 1938–1949, for instance, that could be a red flag it was a Nazi-stolen artwork. Buyers will be less enthusiastic to spend the big bucks, in the event a rightful owner comes forward to claim it. Works that were known to be in the custody of the Nazis won’t be traded at all in the United States (at least at auction), because you can’t have clear title to something you don’t rightfully own.

Where in the World?

Norwegian Sold Black X

Unsurprisingly, items will sell best in the market where they have the largest concentration of interested collectors. So when researching comps and the appraised work, it is important to consider where the work is being sold, and at what market level (i.e. an international auction house? Regional auction house? Tag sale?).

Sometimes markets can be very niche: can you guess where California landscape painters’ work sells the best? That’s right—California! What would be a better market for selling a Picasso painting: at Christie’s New York, an internationally-recognized auction house with the marketing budget and connections to access the millionaire class that would bid on a Picasso? Or at a small regional auction house in Romania? (You’re so smart, I don’t need to tell you the answer…)

The “Bigger Picture”

McArtyface Os

Curveball: let’s say Artie McArtyface is world-renowned not for his Xs, but for his Os! What if he made Black X as a totally aberrant and wild experiment while flying high on peyote one night? It happens…

That’s all to say: you have to contextualize the artwork you’re appraising within the artist’s larger body of work. How did the artist develop and mature? What are they “known” for? Is scholarship changing on the artist? That is, are museums or curators “rediscovering” the Xs, and giving them more attention in public exhibitions or collections?

In addition to contextualizing within the artist’s career, I also take a look at the “bigger picture” of the artist’s market. Some art market databases to which I subscribe offer analytic charts and tools that allow you to examine the artist’s turnover, percentage of lots sold, average price ranges, etc. Very useful.

McArtyface market trends
The turnover at auction for Artie McArtyface from 2009 – 2019.

Comps for Black X

So I’ve researched Artie McArtyface’s auction records, and here are the most recent sales of Xs:

Black X comps 1-3
Comps 1-3 for Black X

A Blue X from 1965 sold at Christie’s New York in May of 2016 (comp 1), just passing its pre-sale auction estimate of $30,000 – 50,000, to sell for $58,000. Both the client’s Black X and Blue X are from the same period, but formally speaking, the Blue X is more vibrant and visually appealing than the Black X.

The Checkered X (comp 2) came from the artist’s LSD-infused period of the early 1970s; although smaller in scale than Black X, the purple and yellow are satisfying contrasting colors, and create a lively visual rhythm that appeals to collectors. Thus, Checkered X outperformed its $15,000 – 20,000 estimate at Sotheby’s New York in May of 2018 to sell for $35,000.

Most recently, a Black X from later in the artist’s career was offered for auction at Sotheby’s, Paris in November 2018 (comp 3). Although the 2002 Black X exceeded its high estimate to ultimately sell for $36,000, the composition of the 2002 X is not as tight and controlled as the Xs from the 1960s and 1970s, and thus it is less appealing to collectors. Additionally, the work sold in Paris, which is not the artist’s best market; the artist’s work sells best in New York and London.

The above comps are useful, but still make it difficult to nail down a value for my client’s Black X; I’ll have to dig a little deeper. Ideally for an appraisal you want at least three comps that support your opinion of value; sometimes I’ll use four or five comps to substantiate the appraisal.

Black X comps 4-5
Comps 4-5 for Black X

In May of 2015, Phillips auction house in New York offered a Blue X from 1967 (comp 4). The pre-sale estimate ($20,000 – 30,000) and the final selling price of $40,000 are both much lower than the Blue X that sold a year later at Christie’s ($30,000-50,000/$58,000). Did the market change that much in a year? Review of the condition report indicates that the Blue X at Phillips (comp 4) in fact had repaired breaks, thus the lower selling price. But a Blue X with condition issues may approximate the value of a Black X is good condition…

Finally, an auction result for a Black X similar to my client’s (comp 5)! Christie’s New York offered a Black X from 1966 in May 2014 with a pre-sale estimate of $20,000 – 30,000. It went on to sell for nearly double its high estimate, selling for $55,000. It is important to note the sale date of 2014: that year was an incredibly bullish year for the art market in general, and you can see the spike in the McArtyface’s sales chart above. That said, the McArtyface’s market has been on a continuous climb since 2015, and in 2018 the Museum of Modern Art put on a big retrospective exhibition of his work, which should benefit his market. And don’t be fooled by the dip between 2018 and 2019—it’s only August! With the fall sales still ahead of us in 2019, the turnover for the 2019 will probably be on par with—or better than—2017 and 2018.

Fair Market Value 

Black X FMV-50,000

Given the available market data, an appropriate fair market value for my client’s Black X by Artie McArtyface as of the date of my inspection is $50,000. And voilà, my appraisal allows my client to justify a $50,000 deduction from his taxable income for the year.

And that, my friends, is how you appraise a work of art.

Spring 2019 Auction Roundup: a ‘KAWS’ for cheer?

Let’s get one thing straight: any market that generates over $7 billion a year is doing fine. But, as has been the case the past few years, there’s mixed results reflected in the auction seasons: there are statistics we can examine in the spring 2019 sales that speak to bullish growth, enthusiasm and collector confidence; and there are other statistics that speak to a slowly waning art market. This fickle data requires collectors, advisors and appraisers to pay close attention to the nuances of each auction, and the fluctuations in each artist’s own market.

The nearly 2,000 lots offered this past May by the three major houses (Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips) grossed just over $2 billion; the equivalent sales last May brought in more than $2.8 billion—a gloomy decline. Another ominous statistic: Sotheby’s, the only publicly traded auction house of the three major houses, reported a 2018 income of $108.6 million, down from $118.8 million in 2017. For the first quarter of 2019, the auction house declared a loss of $7.1 million—worse than its $6.5 million loss for the equivalent period last year. One can perhaps attribute Sotheby’s decline to poor business decisions or structural issues, resulting in their recent decision to sell the company back to private hands for $3.7 billion. But one wonders if this regression is reflective of the secondary market as a whole (as privately held entities, Christie’s and Phillips do not report their profits and losses).

Another interesting fact: the number of guaranteed lots declined at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s from this time last year. In his New York Times preview of the spring sales, Scott Reyburn noted that this reflects seller confidence in the market; that these sellers don’t need the guarantees, and are confident enough to take on the risk that the good ol’ fashion auction model is all about. But seen another way: could the lack of guarantees reflect hesitation on the part of third-party guarantors—including the (possibly cash-strapped) auction houses themselves?

When we start to break down the sales themselves, the statistics get more nuanced. The “less good” news first: the Impressionist and Modern market generally continues to slow. Christie’s and Sotheby’s New York Imp and Mod day sales each sold below their aggregate estimates, respectively selling only 72% of their lots. Sotheby’s New York’s Imp and Mod evening sale came in just under $350 million, with the lion’s share of the revenue coming from the highlight of the spring season: a spectacular, luminous painting from Claude Monet’s haystacks series, which sold for $110.7 million—the new record for any Impressionist work at auction.

Monet Haystacks
Claude Monet, Meules, 1890, sold for $110.7 million at Sotheby’s, setting the record for any Impressionist work.

Yet despite the record-setting Monet, and a general sell through rate of 91%, other statistics from the Sotheby’s evening sale paint a different picture: twenty-five lots (nearly half of the offerings) sold below their low estimates, and some highlight works failed to sell at all, such as William Bouguereau’s La Jeunesse de Bacchus (1884), which stalled at $18 million, below its $25 million low estimate. And while this recent Imp and Mod evening sale did top Sotheby’s equivalent sale from 2018 ($318 million), both auctions relied heavily on the income of one major masterpiece (in 2018, half of the revenue of the evening sale came from Amedeo Modigliani’s $157 million Nu couché sur le côte gauche. As any business owner (myself included) will tell you: it’s never healthy to have your income so unevenly reliant on one source.

Cezanne Still Life
Paul Cézanne, Bouilloire et Fruits (Pitcher and Fruit), c. 1880s, sold at Christie’s for $59.3 million.

Speaking of blue-chip masterpieces: Christie’s Imp and Mod New York evening sale reached nearly $400 million ($50 million more than Sotheby’s), thanks in large part to the esteemed collection of the late Condé Nast juggernaut S.I. Newhouse, who passed away in 2017. Five artists alone accounted for more than $100 million of the Estate’s sales, including a $40 million Van Gogh landscape, and a Cézanne still life that was famously stolen in the 1970s and recovered in 1999, when Newhouse bought it at auction for $29.5 million. In their May sale, Christie’s sold it for $59.3 million.

As has been the case for many years, the news is better for the Postwar and Contemporary sales: the total sales for the three major houses was $1.214 billion. The gross revenue for the evening sales was $981 million, up 6.6% from the same sales last May. According to Artsy, this spring’s evening sales results were the biggest week for P&C auctions since November 2017 (which was greatly skewed by the $450 million sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi), and the best spring sales result since May 2015.

Koons - 1986 Rabbit
Jeff Koons’s Rabbit, 1986, broke David Hockney’s auction record for a living artist when it sold for $91.1 million at Christie’s.

Love him or hate him, the big headline-grabber of the week was Jeff Koons, whose Rabbit (1986) broke David Hockney’s recent auction record for a living artist when it sold for $91.1 million at Christie’s (Christie’s increase in buyer’s fees, introduced February 1, just tipped it past Hockney’s $90.2 million record). This work was also from the collection of S.I. Newhouse, and purchased by art dealer Robert E. Mnuchin on behalf of a client.

Bourgeois - 1997 Spider
Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1996-97, sold for $32.1 million, a new record for the artist.

The art market trend–or correction–for works by women and artists of color continued: Louise Bourgeois’s massive Spider sculpture (1996-97) sold in Christie’s evening sale for $32.1 million—a world record for the artist, and a new record for a contemporary sculpture by a female artist. If artist Dana Schutz’s market felt any fallout following the controversy around her Emmett Till painting in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, it appears to have recovered, with two back-to-back auction records: her 2009 painting Signing set a record of $980,000 at Phillips, only to be shattered a few hours later at Sotheby’s when Civil Planning (2004) burst past its $400,000 high estimate to sell for $2.42 million (backed by an irrevocable bid).

Other notable sales by women and/or artists of color this spring included British artist Cecily Brown’s Confessions of a Window Cleaner, which sold for $3.62 million at Sotheby’s New York evening sale, and British-Ghanaian painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Leave a Brick Under the Maple (2015), sold for 795,000 GBP (about $1 million) at Phillips London, almost double its high estimate. The latter’s market may be benefitting from her inclusion at the Ghanaian pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale, as well as a forthcoming retrospective at the Tate Britain next year.

Yiadom-Boakye Leave a Brick Under the Maple
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Leave a Brick Under the Maple (2015), sold for 795,000 GBP (about $1 million)

A record was also set for Toyin Ojih Odutola’s Compound Leaf, a self-portrait of the Nigerian-American on paper, which brought 471,000 GBP ($597,000) at Phillips London, well above its high estimate of 150,000 GBP ($191,000). And Tschabalala Self, the young African-American artist currently in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, set a new record when dozens of bidders competed for her 2015 collage Out of Body, ultimately selling for 371,250 GBP ($415,000).

Tschabalala - Out of Body
Tschabalala Self, Out of Body, 2015 (detail), broke a record for the young artist when it sold for 371,250 GBP ($415,000) at Christie’s.

It is remarkable that such recent works by young, trending artists are already coming up for auction, as galleries—and artists—struggle to keep up with the demand for fresh work. Some galleries have waiting lists for their hottest artists, and sellers are clearly willing to bypass galleries and put their works directly onto the secondary market, bringing prices that rival or even exceed gallery prices. Collectors are sometimes flipping their purchases after only a few a years: the seller of Odutola’s aforementioned Compound Leaf only acquired it in 2017, and a collector who bought Barkley L. Hendricks’s Yocks (1975) for $942,500 in May 2017, sold it this season for $3.74 million (against an estimate of $900–$1.2 million). This also speaks, however, to a still volatile and uncertain landscape for young artists who are not market-tested, and I urge collectors to make educated and measured decisions; we can learn lessons from artists like Jacob Kassay, whose auction market exploded rapidly between 2011–2013, and deflated just as quickly.

KAWS album.png
KAWS, The KAWS Album painting, 2005, sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for $14.8 million

The other much-discussed winner of the spring sales was the street artist known as KAWS (aka Brian Donnelly). KAWS has not usually been taken seriously by critics, but his Instagram-friendly and accessible art has bypassed the usual market trajectory of artistic success (i.e. through critics and curators); Scott Nussbaum, head of 20th century and contemporary art at Phillips, especially credits a young, emerging class of collectors from Asia for boosting KAWS’s market. Following a whopping $14.8 million sale at Sotheby’s Hong Kong this spring for The KAWS Album (2005)—a parody of the Beatles’ famous Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, with characters from The Simpsons—for the first time, all three major houses simultaneously included works by KAWS in their sales (19 works total). In these recent auctions, KAWS’s pieces continuously surpassed their estimates, including 2012’s The Walk Home, a large painting featuring SpongeBob SquarePants which sold at Phillips for an impressive $6 million, 10 times its low estimate of $600,000–a ‘KAWS’ for celebration (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). We’ll see what the fall sales have in store for him and the rest of the P&C market.

Until the next market report!

KAWS - The Walk Home
KAWS, The Walk Home, 2012, recently sold for $6 million at Phillips.