Sotheby’s recent double-header night of The Now and contemporary art auctions set an impressive ten new artist records, injecting confidence into the market following a lacklustre sale of the Gerald Fineberg collection at Christie’s. The auctions achieved a combined hammer result of $175.8 million for the 46 lots sold, with the total reaching $204.6 million (including fees), aligning closely with the pre-sale expectations ranging from $172.1 million to $235.4 million (excluding fees).
The Now sale, known for its lively atmosphere, realised $30 million ($37.1 million with fees) and boasted a robust sale-through rate of 82.6% by lot. Only four out of the 23 works offered failed to find buyers, and two lots were withdrawn, including a Yoshitomo Nara piece estimated at $12 million to $18 million. The sale’s results aligned with the lower end of pre-sale expectations, which were set at $29.2 million to $42.1 million.
In comparison to last year’s May sale of The Now, which totaled $72.9 million from 23 sold lots, this year’s event had the participation of eight lots backed by house and third-party guarantees, also known as “irrevocable bids.”
The night witnessed the establishment of six artist records, beginning with Justin Caguiat’s large-scale abstraction, “to the approach of beauty its body is fungible” from 2020, which sold for $620,000 ($787,400 with fees, estimated at $150,000-$200,000). Jadé Fadojutimi’s vibrant and color-charged abstraction, “A Toast to..?” (2020), sized at 190 cm by 220cm, fetched $750,000 ($952,500 with fees, estimated at $500,000-$700,000).
Nicole Eisenman’s gritty figurative piece, “Night Studio” (2009), featuring entangled reclining nude figures surrounded by art books, cigarettes, and a beer bottle, achieved an exhilarating record sale of $2 million ($2.4 million with fees, estimated at $800,000-$1.2 million). This artwork, showcased in Eisenman’s 2016 retrospective at The New Museum in New York, received support from an irrevocable bid. It matched the hammer price of the following lot but had a lower buyer’s premium due to the guarantor’s financing fee.
Henry Taylor’s bold and powerful work, “From Congo to the Capital, and black again” (2007), which offers a unique interpretation of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), sparked a mini-bidding frenzy and sold to a telephone bidder for a record-breaking $2 million ($2.4 million with fees, estimated at $1 million-$1.5 million). Among the underbidders was Los Angeles-based dealer Jeffrey Deitch. Taylor’s piece had recently been on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles during his B Side exhibition.
Figurative paintings continued to shine, with Kerry James Marshall’s “Untitled (Mask Boy, 2014)” claiming the top spot and fetching $4.7 million ($5.7 million with fees, estimated at $4 million-$6 million). Glenn Ligon’s “Malcolm X (version 1) #1” from 2000, derived from a children’s colouring book, sold for $800,000 ($1 million with fees, estimated at $1 million-$1.5 million). It had previously been sold at Christie’s New York in May