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Disappointing Sotheby’s $128 million Contemporary and Post-war Art Sale

Andy Warhol's Sixteen Jackies and Rounded Jackie
A presenter stands beside Andy Warhol’s Sixteen Jackies and Rounded Jackie

Sotheby’s New York evening sale of contemporary art on May 10, 2011, totaled $128 million, just above the $121 million low estimate. The auction, which featured 58 contemporary works by artists such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, ended with total 49 of 58 lots selling, or 84.5 percent. The result is a drop from Sotheby’s performance in fall 2010 ($222.5 million), spring 2010 ($190 million) and fall 2009 ($134.4 million). The low of $47 million was set in May 2009, while the record high of $362 million was made in May 2008.

As usual, Andy Warhol was the coin of the realm, taking four of the ten top prices. Warhol’s canvas, Sixteen Jackies, sold for $20.4 million with another, Shadow – Red selling for 4.8 million, far above the estimate of $700,000-900,000. Sixteen Jackies, 16 print painted panels in acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas narrowly avoided failure thanks to a single $18 million bid that did not match the $20 million low estimate. (The price, $20.24 million with the additional sale charge.)

Shadow - Red by Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol's Shadow - Red

The two Round Jackie, symbolic of a tragic moment in American history as well as of the Warhol’s poignant meditation on the dichotomy between the public and private persona, were separated for the first time: one net $ 3,7 millions, the other remained unsold.

Other high-profile works didn’t fare so well, though: Jeff Koons’ Pink Panther, sold for $16.8 million, below the estimate of $20-30 million, while nine further works by artists such as Ed Ruscha and Ellsworth Kelly went unsold. Our estimates were possibly aggressive, said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art who also served as auctioneer.

The third highest price of the evening was $5.5 million bid for one of Lucio Fontana’s solid monochrome paintings from the Concetto Spaziale series dating from 1965, sold well below the $6 million low estimate. At $6.24 million with buyer’s premium, the Fontana was hardly a giveaway. Other high prices were brought by works by Jean-Michel Basquiat ($5.9 milllion), Mark Tansey ($3.4 million), Rosemarie Trockel ($962,500, a new record for a wool painting) and Mike Kelley ($842,500, a new record for a group of photos).

The auctions continue on Wednesday with Christie’s sale of post-war and contemporary art, highlighted by two iconic Andy Warhol’s self-portraits each expected to fetch in excess of $20 million each.

Concetto Spaziale by Lucio Fontana
Lucio Fontana's Concetto Spaziale

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