On Friday in New York, Sotheby’s held its highly anticipated fall “Contemporary Curated” auction, a biannual series focused on mid-career and postwar artists. The sale hammered at $24 million, making $30.7 million total with buyer’s premium across 176 lots, and landing within the pre-sale estimate of $23 million–$32.7 million.
The sell-through rate of 72.7 percent was lower than average. The results came in just under last year’s equivalent sale total of $32.7 million. They also disappointed in comparison to the highest series total of $36.8 million, achieved in March 2019. Still, its the fifth edition in the series’ history to reach over $30 million.
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Many of the leading lots were by Black artists. Kerry James Marshall’s The Wonderful One (1986), a stark work featuring a Black figure against a white background, sold for $1.8 million, more than double the low estimate of $500,000. Barkley Hendricks’s Latin from Manhattan…Actually the Bronx (1980), a portrait of a woman donning a trench coat, realized a selling price of $1.5 million, doubling the low estimate of $700,000. The interest in the work may be explained by its rarity in a setting like Sotheby’s—portraits by Hendricks rarely come to auction, and this one had been in private hands, in a Michigan collection, for two decades prior to its sale. It is the first by Hendricks to be auctioned since news of a record $14 million private sale through Jack Shainman Gallery.
Titus Kaphar’s Page 4 of Jefferson’s “Farm Book” (2018), a work featuring a recreation of an 18th-century portrait, with its sitter’s face blanked out by tar, sold for $854,900, setting a new record for the closely watched artist, who recently joined Gagosian’s roster. Kaphar’s prior record of $350,000 set at Christie’s this July for the sale of Still Hungry! (2008).
A new record was also set for Romare Bearden, whose collage The Fortune Teller (1968) came from the collection of New York’s Joseph and Blanche Blank and sold for $770,200, five times the estimate of $150,000. It more than doubled the last record of $338,500 for Strange Morning, Interior (1968), which was auctioned at Christie’s in 2012. Ed Clark’s 1962 canvas Scarlett Blue sold for $576,600, going for five times the low estimate and establishing a new record for the artist.
The series continues to draw attention with high-profile guest curators. This season, Sotheby’s tapped co-curators Virgil Abloh, chief creative director of Louis Vuitton, and Gorden Wagener, chief design officer at the Daimler Group. The design duo brought a custom Mercedes-Benz maquette from Project Geländewagen, which opened the sale and went for $201,600. Proceeds benefited Virgil Abloh’s Post-Modern Scholarship Fund for Black fashion students.
Elsewhere in the sale, blue-chip artists brought top results. A large-scale Kenneth Noland abstract from the collection of Dr. M. Wallace Faega Friedman was expected to be the top lot. Ember (1960) hammered at its low estimate, reaching $2.6 million with buyer’s fees. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s untitled portrait of a head sold for $1.4 million, well within its pre-sale estimate. David Hockney’s still-life Two Red Pots also sold for $988,000, hammering at twice its low estimate of $400,000. Damien Hirst’s dot painting Happy (Dappy), 1993, which had been held in a private collection since the early 1990s, sold for $1.3 million, five times its estimate of $250,000.
Jean Dubuffet’s Le Conjectural sold for $746,000, Alexander Calder’s sculpture Twisted Tail went for $528,000 and Helen Frankenthaler’s Persia was bought for $721,800, hammering within its pre-sale estimate range. Cecily Brown’s Immigrant Song sold for $441,000, more than four times the low estimate of $90,000. A rare work from Jean Dubuffet’s oeuvre El Golea (1948) made during the artist’s travels to Algeria sold for $296,100, placing well above the low estimate of $120,000. Eddie Martinez’s large-scale 2013 painting sold for $239,400, selling just above the low estimate.
Other blue-chip lots failed to impress. Top-priced works by Ruth Asawa, also from the Friedman collection, along with a Robert Indiana, Christopher Wool and Keith Haring, failed to find buyers.
A sculpture made this year by Simone Leigh titled No Face (House), sold to benefit the New York High Line art park, brought a new record for the artist at $403,200, four times its estimate of $100,000. Leigh has seen new milestones at auction following news of her representation by Hauser & Wirth this January. This price surpassed the her record of $337,500 for Decatur (Cobalt), 2015, sold at Sotheby’s in March. Her four highest auction prices have all been set in 2020.
New to auction, painter Otis Quaicoe’s Girl in White Dress (2018), which the seller acquired directly from the artist, sold for $138,600, against an estimate of $40,000. This is the third work by the artist to surface at auction and follows the sale of his painting Old Town Boy (2019) for $137,500 last week at Phillips “New Now” sale.