This week’s bumper series of auctions in New York City got off to a good start at Christie’s on May 11 when a skull painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat cost $ 81 million ($ 93.1 million with fees, estimate $ 50 million). The powerful ‘In This Case’ (1983) was sold by fashion label co-founder Valentino, Giancarlo Giammetti, and sold at auction for just $ 1 million in 2002.
In total, the live sale grossed $ 179.4 million ($ 210.5 million with fees), in the high end of estimates, with an average hammer price of $ 4.8 million out of 39 lots. The demand demonstrated the change in market taste towards less traditional tariffs, cemented during the pandemic. Digital art, backed by non-fungible tokens (NFTs), was also featured. A sample of nine CryptoPunks, avatars created by software developers Larva Labs in 2017 and considered pioneers in today’s crypto art scene, secured the second highest prize of the night at 14.5 million ($ 17 million with fees, is $ 7 to $ 9 million)). Two bidders were online, but the work was eventually sold over the phone to a Christie’s specialist based in Los Angeles.
Other record-breaking works included Jonas Wood’s daring “Two Tables with Floral Pattern” (2013) at $ 5.4 million ($ 6.5 million with fees, is $ 2-4 million). Rashid Johnson’s “Anxious Red Painting of December 18” (2020), which sold well above its high estimate of $ 300,000, grossed $ 1.6 million ($ 1.95 million with fees) and was donated by the artist to benefit the charity Community Organized Relief Effort.
This column went before Christie’s 20th-century auction (Wednesday evening) and Sotheby’s Impressionist at contemporary auctions (Thursday evening), estimated at $ 1 billion combined. Works for sale included another Basquiat (“Versus Medici”, 1982, Sotheby’s $ 35-50 million) and paintings by Monet, Picasso and Warhol. “The market is good and has never been so global. There is interest in all areas of the 20th and 21st century, ”says Melanie Clore, co-founder of Clore Wyndham Art Advisory.
“It was not the perfume counter at Macy’s, but what the urgent fair lacked was made up for by measured conversations, ”says New York gallery owner James Cohan of Frieze New York (May 5-9), one of the premier art fairs in no one to stand since the pandemic hit. Staggered entry into The Shed certainly allowed for a different and quiet event, according to exhibitors and visitors, which also required forms to be completed in advance and proof of Covid-19 tests and vaccines.
Nonetheless, all of this helped sell more art again. Cohan brought a solo booth by American artist Trenton Doyle Hancock, whose new works explore white supremacy, and grossed a dozen sales ($ 5,000 – $ 60,000). Of these, Cohan says, about a third were made in-house for buyers new to the gallery. Recent work has performed well elsewhere, including that of George Condo, Rashid Johnson and Simone Leigh at Hauser & Wirth, and William Kentridge and Cassi Namoda at Goodman Gallery. The feeling of sweet reunion has also spread in the city’s galleries, says Naomi Baigell, managing director of the specialist lending group TPC Art Finance. “You could see people happily picking up the habit of seeing art with people,” she says.
Thaddaeus Ropac will open a gallery in Seoul’s latest art market hotspot in October. The new space – 750 m² on the first floor of the Fort Hill building – is Ropac’s first gallery in Asia. It is located in the upscale Hannam-dong district, close to the city’s museums, where the Pace Gallery will also open a new space later this year. “I was inspired to be in a country with such a sophisticated and old art scene,” says Ropac. He had been looking in Hong Kong for a while, but says he “never found a space that suited us”. The Fort Hill building won two architectural awards when it was built in 2011, and Ropac’s new gallery has a balcony overlooking a sunken garden. Kyu Jin Hwang, gallery director for Asia, will oversee the Seoul space and appoint a general manager in time for its opening.
Ropac has strong ties to South Korea, he says. In 2007, his artist Georg Baselitz had a solo exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Korea in Gwacheon, 15 km south of Seoul, and the gallery recently sold a painting by Adrian Ghenie to the Museum of cosmetics company Amorepacific. Ropac also represents South Korea’s leading contemporary artist, Lee Bul, although he says his projects in Seoul are more aimed at promoting his European and American artists. The gallery is participating this week in the Art Busan fair (May 13-16), with works by Baselitz, Donald Judd and Antony Gormley, among others.
Auction houses have started to accept payment in cryptocurrencies for physical and digital art. This week, Sotheby’s is open to payments in ether or bitcoin for the Banksy protesters’ painting “Love is in the air” (2005, estimate between $ 3 million and $ 5 million). Phillips said that another Banksy – “Laugh Now Panel A,” made for the street artist Existencilism in Los Angeles in 2002 – is also eligible for the same alternative currencies at its June 8 auction in Hong Kong (estimate $ 2.8-4.1 million).
Auction houses do not need sellers’ permission unless they want them to accept the proceeds from crypto sales, confirms Sebastian Fahey, managing director of Sotheby’s Europe. It does help, however, that the US seller of “Love is in the Air” is on board, Fahey adds. The move is a drip test on a limited number of works, to test appetites and attract new buyers. The choice of the disruptive and anonymous Banksy by each auction house is a coincidence but seems a good starting point.
“We hope the sale will attract a new generation of forward-thinking crypto collectors who are as accustomed to the digital evolution as they are to the activist art of Banksy,” says Fahey. Payments will be made through the Coinbase exchange. Sotheby’s won’t accept cryptocurrency for its commission, but Phillips will.
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