In the Wake of Trump Victory, New York's Auction Week Perseveres With Solid Results

In the Wake of Trump Victory, New York's Auction Week Perseveres With Solid Results
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Edvard Munch, Pikene på broen (Girls on the Bridge), 1902, oil on canvas, 39 3/4 x 40 3/8 in. (101 x 102.5 cm). Estimate: on request, in excess of $50 million. Price Realized: $54,487,500 million.

While there was much speculation about the effect that the United States' upset presidential contest might have on the art market, this week's New York sales proved that the auction market remains as impervious to politics as it does to criticism. The Picassos, the Warhols, and the Richters were bought and sold, like any other day, regardless of who is advancing to the White House and who is marching in the street. And while the market is certainly experiencing a contraction from the spectacle of just a few years prior, overall the sales were solid and steady, though a touch subdued.

László Moholy-Nagy, EM 1 Telephonbild, conceived in 1922, executed in 1923, porcelain enamel on steel, 37 1/2 x 23 3/4 in. (95.2 x 60.3 cm). Estimate: $3,000,000 - 4,000,000. Price Realized: $6,087,500. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

At least one glass ceiling was ruptured: Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale started off the week on Monday, November 14, with auctioneer Helena Newman -the first female auctioneer to lead a major evening sale in New York - commanding the room. The star lot of the sale, Edvard Munch's Girls on a Bridge (1902), started at $43 million and quickly rose until stalling at $50 million for what felt like an excruciating length of time. Imploring looks and queries were cast across the room, until Newman finally gave in, settling for the hammer price of $50 million ($54.5 million all told). It's the third time the painting has been sold at Sotheby's, and it set records each time it was auctioned previously. This week's result would have made it a three-for-three record-setter, were it not for The Scream, which set the all time record for the artist at $119.9 million in 2012. Recently on view at the Guggenheim retrospective of László Moholy-Nagy, EM 1 Telephonbild (1922-23), billed as an early conceptual work of art, was another highlight of the evening, selling for a record-setting $6 million. Not all were winners, however; a highly anticipated Tamara de Lempicka portrait of a male subject, from the collection of fashion illustrator Kenneth Paul Block and textile designer Morton Ribyat, failed to sell. Overall, the auction was a success, however, with the evening sale total coming in at $157.7 million, with $38.8 million resulting from the Tuesday's Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale, bringing Sotheby's total to $196.5 million - a reassuring result given the charged political climate.

Willem de Kooning, Untitled XXV, 1977, oil on canvas, 77 x 88 in. (195.7 x 223.5 cm). Estimate in the region of $40 million. Price Realized: $66,327,500. Courtesy of Christie's.

Jean Dubuffet, Les Grandes Artères, 1961, oil on canvas, 44 3/4 x 57 1/2 in. (113.7 x 146 cm). Estimate: $ 15,000,000 - 20,000,000. Price Realized: $ 23,767,500. Courtesy of Christie's.

Christie's started out auction week with its Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale on Tuesday, led by a 1977 Willem de Kooning abstract painting, Untitled XXV. When it first came to Christie's, in 2005, it set a world auction record for both the artist and any post-war work of art sold at auction at $27.1 million; on Tuesday it smashed the record for de Kooning, selling for $66.3 million. (The current record for a post-war work of art is currently held by Francis Bacon's Three Studies of Lucian Freud (in 3 parts) sold at Christie's for $142.4 million.) Other notable lots included a marvelous, grand canvas by Dubuffet, Les Grandes Artères (1961), which achieved $23.7 million, over its high estimate of $20 million; a John Currin painting that sold for $12 million, setting a record for the artist; and the Gerhard Richter abstract from the collection of Eric Clapton, which sold for $22 million. Certain lots sparked bidding wars, ranging from the exhilarating - a frenzied bidding over a 2011 abstract painting by Italian artist Giuseppe Gallo, which sold for $367,500, far exceeding its high estimate of $60,000, and setting a record for the artist at auction - to the exasperating - an Adrian Ghenie painting prompted a spirited bidding contest between two bidders in the room, but the price was inching upward by only $50,000 increments, to the consternation of cajoling auctioneer Jussi Pylkännen, until the spell was broken by a third party who outbid them both. The total for the evening amounted to $276.9 million.

Carmen Herrera, Cerulean, 1965, acrylic on canvas, in artist's frame, 69 x 68 1/2 in. (175.3 x 174 cm). Estimate: $600,000 - 800,000. Price Realized: $970,000. Courtesy of Phillips.

Gerhard Richter, Düsenjäger, 1963, oil on canvas, 51 1/8 x 78 3/4 in. (130 x 200 cm). Estimate: $25,000,000 - $35,000,000. Price Realized: $27,130,000. Courtesy of Phillips.

Wednesday's evening sales started with Phillips' 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, which opened up with Carmen Herrera's Cerulean (1965), selling for $970,000 - a record for the recently rediscovered, centenarian abstract artist. Another auction record for a female Latin American artist was set with Mira Schendel's Sem titulo (XII) (1985-86), also at $970,000. While the star lot of the sale, Gerhard Richter's Düsenjäger, did not soar to the heights the auction house might have hoped for, instead hovering near its low estimate, it brought in the highest price of the evening, selling for $25.5 million. Other notable lots included Roy Lichtenstein's Nudes in Mirror (1994), which achieved $21.5 million, and a rare, untitled Clyfford Still from 1948-49, which brought in $13.6 million. The sale totaled $111 million, an impressive 66% increase over the same sale last year.

Claude Monet, Meule, 1891, 28 ⅝ x 36 ¼ in. (72.7 x 92.1 cm). Estimate upon request. Price Realized: $ 81,447,500. Courtesy of Christie's.

Wassily Kandinsky, Rigide et courbé, 1935, oil and sand on canvas, 44 7/8 x 63 7/8 in. (114 x 162.4 cm). Estimate: $18-25 million. Price Realized: $ 23,319,500. Courtesy of Christie's.

Christie's Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale followed, with its most anticipated lot surpassing all expectations: Claude Monet's Meule (1891), a rapturous rendition of a grainstack at sunset, burnished with golds, purples, and greens, achieved a jaw-dropping $81.4 million, a record for the artist at auction. Demand for the sumptuous Monet grainstack was high - as auctioneer Andreas Rumbler reminded everyone, "There won't be another one for quite some time." Another auction record was set with Wassily Kandinsky's Rigide et courbé (1935), which fetched $23.3 million. A Dora Maar portrait by Picasso, from 1938, sold for $22.6 million, to Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa, but another Dora Maar portrait, from 1943, estimated between $9 and 12 million did not sell. There were a few other notable passes: a rare August Strindberg painting, estimated between $3 and 5 million; a Matisse nude, estimated at $2.5 to 3.5 million; and a Cézanne landscape, expecting between $10 and 15 million, all failed to find buyers. In total, the sale brought in $246.3 million, bringing Christie's running total to $584.4 million for the week (as of Wednesday evening).

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Brother's Sausage, 1983, acrylic, oilstick and paper collage on canvas, 48 x 187 1/2 in. (121.9 x 476.2 cm). Estimate: $15,000,000 - 20,000,000.

Auction week continues tonight, Thursday, November 17, with Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Auction. Lots to look forward to include Jean-Michel Basquiat's six-panel tour de force Brother's Sausage, of 1983, estimated between $15 and 20 million; one of Andy Warhol's last works, Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) (1986), estimated around $20 to 30 million; a monumental Hockney landscape with an estimate of $9 to 12 million; and works from the collection of Steven and Ann Ames, including works by Richter, Philip Guston, Robert Ryman, Sigmar Polke, and Anselm Kiefer. The sale is estimated to reap between $208.5 and $302.3 million.

--Natalie Hegert

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