“Great night at Christie’s tonight. Can’t say more,
but it was a thrill,” tweeted Richard Rossello, managing director of Avery Galleries, Bryn Mawr, PA, at about 10:30 p.m. last night.
The dealer, who does not include Jasper Johns in his inventory of pre-contemporary American modernists, was nevertheless identified by Carol Vogel as the purchaser at Christie’s tonight of the $28.6-million Jasper Johns “Flag” from the collection of the late author, Michael Crichton. Then again, the Wall Street Journal‘s Kelly Crow and Bloomberg‘s Lindsay Pollock and Philip Boroff identified the buyer as New York dealer Michael Altman. Is someone wrong or are they all right? I’m confused!
Whoever the buyer, the painting set a an auction record for the artist. Its hammer price, greeted with applause, was $25.5 million, greatly exceeding its presale estimate of $10 million-$15 million and handily beating the auction record of $17.4 million.
The entire 79-lot contemporary art auction (not just the 31 Crichton lots) sold incredibly well, with just five works (none from Crichton) failing to find buyers. The hammer total was $202.44 million ($231.91 million with buyer’s premium), near the high end of its presale estimate of $142.94 million-$207.41 million. The auction was an extraordinary 94% sold by lot, 98% by value. The majority of Crichton works sold above their presale estimates, unlike the rest of the sale where bidding was, for the most part, in line with estimates.
The deft and ever-encouraging auctioneer, Christopher Burge, appeared to be on his way to pitching a perfect game until Lot 58, an Oldenburg, came up to the plate. It’s final bid, at $800,000 (presale estimate: $900,000-$1.2 million), elicited an “awww” from the disappointed fastball ace, who resignedly sighed, “Passed” and moved on.
Throughout the long evening, Burge acted as if he were every bidder’s best friend and enabler. No bidding increment was too small: “All right, why not? We’ve come all this way,” he told a bid chiseler who tried to slow the pace on Warhol‘s “Silver Liz.” It ultimately fetched a hammer price of $16.3 million (presale estimate: $10 million-$15 million), the second-highest price of the night ($18.39 million with buyer’s premium).
Spirited bidding wars broke out all over the room for many of the
offerings, but Amy Cappellazzo, Christie’s co-head for contemporary art, said that compared to the pre-recession market, this sale was “more sober” and lacked “a little bit of the frothiness.”
It all looked pretty frothy to me and also to some veteran market mavens, including dealer Richard Feigen and collector Peter Brant, each of whom I cornered after the sale. They opined that the mixed quality of the offerings didn’t warrant the indiscriminate enthusiasm of the bidders. Feigen, usually a proponent of art investment as a means to preserving capital, called last night’s bidding “profligate,” adding that what it demonstrated about the inequitable distribution of wealth in this country (at a time when individuals and state and local governments are still experiencing economic distress) made him “fear for the political and economic consequences” of such unrestrained spending by the rich.
Half of the top 10 lots went to U.S. dealers (who may, in some cases, have been bidding for clients). Two of them were willing to be identified by the auction house—John Berggruen, purchaser of a $6.35-million Sam Francis (an auction record for the artist); Larry Gagosian, purchaser of a $6.35-million Rauschenberg. (Gagosian was recently was named to represent Rauschenberg’s estate.)
I also came upon New York dealer and soon-to-be LA MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch, right after he had handed in his bidding paddle. So I asked him if he had bought or sold anything. Unsurprisingly, he declined to talk to me.
Speaking of high finance: As you may have guessed by the fact that I’m back to posting, the CultureGrrl Challenge has been admirably met: My warm thanks go out to Repeat CultureGrrl Donor 131 from New York City. That makes five who stepped up to my plate during the past day.
As Christopher Burge might wheedle, “Shall we try one more?”