The megawatt evening sales at the Big Three auction houses in New York raked in a honking $2.3 billion over the course of two weeks. With the drama of a gigawatt divorce sale courtesy the Macklowes and an enthusiastic audience of crypto populists teaming up to try to buy a copy of the U.S. Constitution, the proceedings managed to feel both uniquely 2021 and harken back to market heights not seen since the mid-2010s.
That said, some of the most exciting action happened outside of the choreographed-to-perfection evening sales. To see genuinely surprising results an glean fresh insights into where the market is heading, tune into the larger and less curated day sales.
Don’t have all week to watch hundreds of lots hit the block? Don’t worry—the Artnet News Pro team trawled the results to bring you six lots that stood out among the many on offer during day sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips.
Two Bathers (2021)
Auction: Christie’s, Postwar and Contemporary Art Day Sale, November 12
Sold for: $287,500
This intimate oil on linen by Danielle Orchard sold for a whopping 57.4 times its low estimate. Orchard paints female nudes recognisably influenced by the style of 20th-century male painters like Picasso and Modigliani, but which disrupt their objectifying tendencies. This sultry work depicts a woman smoking in a bathtub but the painting is provocatively called Two Bathers and its subject is looking straight at the viewer, who is positioned at the other end of the bathtub, interrupting what could otherwise have been a voyeuristic scene.
The success of the painting could be ascribed to several factors; first, it was the auction debut of the in-demand artist (currently Orchard is having her first solo show in Asia at Perrotin Seoul). Second, there was a charitable component to the sale; the artist donated the work to raise money for Public Art Fund.
Costa Brava (1966)
Auction: Christie’s, Postwar and Contemporary Art Day Sale, November 12
Sold for: $462,500
This work by AbEx painter Grace Hartigan fetched $462,500, nearly six times its low estimate, and the second highest price her work has ever attained at auction (a slightly earlier work from 1962 sold at Christie’s New York evening sale in May for $687,500).
There has been a boom in demand for Hartigan’s work in recent years amid a market surge for female Abstract Expressionists as collectors and institutions seek to rectify holes in their collecting history. (Her top 15 results at auction have all happened in the past five years, and seven of the top ten results have been achieved in 2021.) Adding to the appeal, perhaps, is a fresh-to-market quality, as this marked the first time the work has appeared at auction since the consignor acquired it from New York’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery—which gave Hartigan her first solo exhibition in 1951.
I See You (2020)
Auction: Phillips 20th Century and Contemporary Art Day Sale, November 18
Sold for: $252,000
Ness’s paintings—which often depict people sitting at cluttered tabletops, reading the newspaper, or looking at their phones—look like what might happen if a late David Hockney had a millennial baby with an early Nicole Eisenman. Only two years out of Yale’s School of Art, she has been included in tastemaking shows at Harper’s Books, Anton Kern, and Blum & Poe—and is already seeing her work be flipped at auction for six-figure sums. This painting of the artist’s studio was sold at her solo exhibition at Nino Mier Gallery in Los Angeles just last summer. (Another example, depicting two hands doodling on top of a newspaper, fetched $89,460 at Phillips in June.)
Ness’s rising market profile is also evident in her Artnet Price Database search history: This time last year, her name drew zero searches, but last month, that number spiked to 23. The rush makes sense considering there is a very long wait list for her work on the primary market. Paintings in her sold-out solo show at Marguo in Paris (through November 27) run between €8,000 and €60,000 ($9,000 to $67,150); half were sold to museums and foundations, including Shanghai’s Long Museum.
Paysage Montagneux (1912)
Auction: Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale, November 19
Sold for: $1.96 million
It’s rare these days to see a work created in the first half of the 20th century outperform its estimate by 880 percent. But that’s exactly what happened with this billboard-size painting by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, a French artist associated with the Symbolist and Art Nouveau movements who is as well known for his ceramics as for his paintings.
In addition to its monumental size, this work also had provenance on its side: it was originally commissioned by the engineer and art connoisseur Auguste Rateau and was being sold at Sotheby’s by the estate of art historian and Picasso biographer John Richardson, who died in 2019. The painting was originally part of a broader design for Rateau’s Paris apartment. While the contents of the home were subsequently auctioned off, the dining room, better known as the Wisteria Room, was purchased by (and remains on view at) the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Another work by Lévy-Dhurmer sold at Sotheby’s modern art day sale on November 17 for $163,800, more than double its $70,000 high estimate.
Untitled (The view from beyond the breakers) (1988–94)
Auction: Phillips, 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, November 18
Sold for: $1.02 million
The smash sale of this classic Pettibon wave painting acts as a de facto confirmation that the Christian Rosa forgery scandal didn’t hurt—or maybe even helped—Raymond Pettibon’s market.
The sale of this piece now falls within the top ten most expensive works sold by the artist at auction, a grouping which is 100 percent composed of wave paintings. The most expensive brought in $3.4 million at Phillips’ evening sale the evening before the day sale, which may have boosted confidence in the investment potential of this more diminutively scaled work.
Actual Queen (2020)
Auction: Phillips, 20th Century and Contemporary Art Day Sale, November 18
Sold for: $81,900
Actual Queen (2020), an expressive acrylic, charcoal, chalk and oil pastel on canvas, astounded by hammering for more than ten times its high estimate. Saheed lives and works in Lagos, Nigeria, and is part of a generation of figurative painters who foreground Black bodies and celebrate Black identity and culture. During the tumultuous year that Actual Queen was created, he told Fad Magazine, that he approached the canvas “with a lot of bottled up emotions.”
The success of the young artist’s—and he is very young, born in 1998—auction debut could be attributed to the fact that he is part of a burgeoning group of emerging artists from Nigeria who are demanding attention at a time when lots of discussion has revolved around Ghanaian artists. The work was acquired directly from the artist by the consignor, and Saheed’s career has been on an upward trajectory since he gained representation this year from Nanzuka Underground gallery in Tokyo, which brought his work to Art Basel Hong Kong last May, and where he has just closed his first-ever solo exhibition at the gallery.
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