Paintings to Watch at the New York Auctions

For this week’s New York sales, auction houses temper their expectations—but also dangle potential blockbusters such as a $45 million Monet and a $50 million Munch

If the art market could be summed up in a painting, it would be a still life. After several years of surging growth, auction sales slowed last year as wary collectors held onto more of their trophies rather than risk putting them up for bid.Sales continue to shrink, with this week’s New York auctions offering one of the smallest batches of works in recent seasons. Between now and Friday, Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips are expected to sell around $1 billion in art, down 57% from $2.3 billion at a similar series of sales last November. Only Phillips, a boutique house, projects it will sell more art this week than last fall.

Necessity has compelled the houses to get inventive with marketing to buyers spooked by global economic uncertainty and sluggish sales for newer art. In its Manhattan headquarters, Sotheby’s recreated the New York and Palm Beach, Fla., homes of Ann Ames, who asked the house to sell the roughly $100 million collection she amassed with her husband, former Oppenheimer & Co. partner Steven Ames, before his death in March.

For its website, Sotheby’s created an animated cartoon with specialist Simon Shaw discussing Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s 1923 “EM1 (Telephone Picture),” which is estimated to sell Monday night for at least $3 million. The cartoon has garnered interest from new buyers, Mr. Shaw said, “even though I look like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo in it.”


Phillips consigned a Roy Lichtenstein painting, “Nudes in Mirror,” that a vandal slashed several times a decade ago. The auction house produced a separate catalog to document the painting’s repair with an acupuncture needle and discuss other damaged works. Now in one piece, the painting “looks like a million dollars,” said specialist Jean-Paul Engelen. But will collectors think the Lichtenstein looks like $20 million, its low estimate?

Experts from all three houses agree that this fall, the sweet spot for collectors, in terms of pricing, hovers between $700,000 and $5 million. That may benefit fashin designer Tommy Hilfiger, who is selling five works at Phillips on Wednesday with a combined low estimate of $5.5 million.

Other sellers include rocker Eric Clapton, who enlisted Christie’s to sell his Gerhard Richter, “Abstract Painting (809-2),” for at least $18 million. Publishing executive Peter Brant has asked the same house to sell his John Currin painting of a pair of nude women, “Nice n’ Easy,” for at least $12 million, up from the $5.4 million he paid for it eight years earlier.

Tighter supply has spurred the houses to showcase artists who seldom or never have been in a marquee New York evening sale before, like František Kupka, a Czech modernist whose 1924 “The Form of Blue” is estimated to sell for at least $1.5 million at Sotheby’s Monday. The same house also bumped a 1955 painting by Milton Avery an artist typically grouped in its American art sales—into its Thursday contemporary sale for the first time.

EDVARD MUNCH

In May 2008, collector Larissa Chertok paid Sotheby’s $30.8 million for the 1902 scene, “Girls on the Bridge.” On Monday night, she hopes to sell it at Sotheby’s for $50 million, a 62% price bump. Ms. Chertok is likely to hit her target price since the house extended her a guarantee, but could this cheery scene soar to “Scream” levels? Munch’s most famous work fetched nearly $120 million at Sotheby’s in 2012.

WILLEM DE KOONING

Among the 10 works by this abstract painter up for sale this week, “Untitled XXV” is the biggest one to watch. Former Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili paid Christie’s $27.1 million for this 1977 painting a decade ago, and later resold it privately for more. On Tuesday, Christie’s will offer it up once again, this time for $40 million, a record estimate for the artist.

NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY

This Nigerian-born, Los Angeles-based painter makes her evening-sale debut at Sotheby’s on Thursday, a milestone that could affect her price levels. Ms. Crosby is known for painting tightly compressed scenes of family and friends doing everyday things like watching television. Sotheby’s has an estimate of $200,000 or more on 2012’s “Drown,” an intimate double portrait of the artist embracing her husband.

CLAUDE MONET

Prices for this Impressionist master’s “Water Lily” paintings have soared above $80 million lately. Christie’s expert Brooke Lampley thinks it’s time to test levels for his “Grainstack” series, a group of 25 scenes of fields and haystacks that Monet painted in 1890-91. Only six remain outside museum collections. The record for a “Grainstack” is $14 million, set in 2002. On Wednesday, Christie’s will ask $45 million for this pink-and-purple version.

GERHARD RICHTER

This German painter’s market remains volatile, with some collectors clamoring for his rainbow-hued squeegee abstracts from the 1980s, at least below $30 million, the houses said. This season, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen will test demand for Richter’s figurative work by asking $25 million for the artist’s 1963 “Düsenjäger” (which means jetfighter) at Phillips on Wednesday.

Article by Kelly Crow, WSJ

Posted in: Auctions, News on December 20, 2016 by...