NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).-
It started in Hong Kong at 9:25 in the evening, moved back eight time zones to Paris and London in the afternoon, and then finished in New York at 11:15 Friday morning. In just under four hours, $420.9 million had been spent.
This was the back-to-the-future format of Christies livestreamed ONE sale, the latest attempt by an international auction house to demonstrate that, thanks to the latest technology, the multimillion-dollar top end of the art market can still sparkle in the gloom of a pandemic.
Christies four-venue global 20th-century art sale replaced the companys live evening auctions of contemporary, impressionist and modern art in New York in May and in London in June. It followed Sothebys pioneering livestreamed $363.2 million clicks and bricks auction June 29 and an equivalent hybrid offering at Phillips July 2 that raised $41 million.
The COVID-induced shift from live to online-only sales has severely dented turnover at the major auction houses. During the second quarter of 2020, Christies auction revenues were down 60% from the same period last year, according to London art analytics company Pi-eX. Christies, like Sothebys and Phillips, has had to come up with compelling new auction formats to reengage the 0.01% of the population that buys and sells big-ticket art.
Everyone was holding their breath before Sothebys sale, said Abigail Asher, co-founder of Guggenheim Asher, an art advisory company in New York. There had been no public transactions of this value since February. Sothebys had shown that there was absolute confidence in art as an asset class, she added. This is a global buying market.
That was certainly the thinking behind Christies ONE sale, a relay of four auctioneers seamlessly passing the gavel in real time, crossing borders to create one vision, one sale. Unlike Sothebys multicamera global livestream predecessor, which featured one auctioneer in an empty studio fluently fielding telephone and online bids from screens, Christies sequence of live sales had a lot of moving parts, some of which moved better than others.
It seemed to be a great thing, but access was a little complicated, and when the Hong Kong auction was not starting half an hour late, I lost interest, said Nikolaus Barta, a collector and art insurer based in Vienna.
The sale eventually started 56 minutes late. The live feed was prone to freezing and breaking, and viewers were at times confused as to which auctioneer was actually selling the work in question. No, Im selling it, said a frustrated Cécile Verdier, Christies auctioneer in Paris, as Jussi Pylkkanen, the companys global president, conducted a miniauction in London for the impressive 1963 Jean Dubuffet painting Pourlèche Fiston. It eventually topped the Paris session with a price of 6.5 million euros (about $7.4 million).
The sale was meant to have been kick-started in Hong Kong by a large red Hurricane Period abstract from 1963 by Zao Wou-Ki, Asias most coveted postwar international artist. Estimated to sell for at least $10 million, it failed to find a buyer.
I was surprised, said Christian Ogier, a Paris-based dealer who specializes in modern Asian art. I thought someone in Asia would go for it. The size, color and date were good. But it was incredibly expensive.
It was left instead to the 1989 Gerhard Richter abstract Frost (1) to lead a less-than-effervescent 10-lot Hong Kong session with a price of $10.3 million, just above its high estimate.
Over in London, Rene Magrittes quintessentially enigmatic 1962 painting LArc de Triomphe, depicting a tree standing in front of a wall of foliage, inspired serious competition, almost doubling its estimate to sell to a telephone bidder in New York for 17.8 million pounds ($22.4 million).
Most of the sales major-name trophies were clustered in the concluding 33-lot New York session. Pablo Picassos Les Femmes dAlger (Version F) from 1955 and Barnett Newmans 1948 abstract expressionist rarity Onement V were museum-quality masterworks that appealed to an older tradition of collecting. The Picasso was pushed by three bidders to $29.2 million, but the Newman, estimated at $30 million, sold to a single bid of $30.9 million.
Roy Lichtensteins iconic 1994 pop canvas Nude With Joyous Painting, valued at $30 million, proved to be more in tune with billionaires current collecting tastes. From the series of nudes that the artist painted during the last five years of his life and never seen at auction before, this piece sparked a nine-minute battle between telephone bidders before falling to a client in Hong Kong for the sales top price of $46.2 million.
Most remarkable of the seven new auction highs set in New York for individual artists was the $30.9 million given for Complements, an admired 8-foot-wide, two-panel abstract of colorful intertwining threads painted by in-vogue American minimalist painter Brice Marden, the subject of a sold-out show at the Gagosian Gallery in New York last year. Painted between 2004 and 2007 and guaranteed to sell for a minimum of $30 million, Complements more than tripled the artists previous auction high. Such are the dynamics of the market for contemporary art that auction prices for Marden are now almost as high as those for an old master like for Rembrandt, whose current auction record is $33.2 million, according to Artprice.
Christies was trying to set a whole new load of records for artists because they thought they had the whole world looking on, said Michael Short, an art adviser in Berlin, who noticed the measured nature of the bidding on many of the lots. It didnt have the animal energy of a live auction.
But others were impressed. It was an incredible live experiment, which allows one to feel and realize the width and breadth of the art market as well as judge the depth of it on a specific artist or artwork, said Ogier, the Paris-based dealer.
Overall, Christies inaugural ONE sale raised $420.9 million from 79 offered lots. Its a great result in the circumstances of the market, said Guillaume Cerutti, Christies chief executive, at the post-sale Zoom news conference. As a global concept it worked very well. He added that more than 20,000 people followed the sale on various digital channels.
But as was the case the previous week at Sothebys, year-on-year sales figures were significantly lower. Last May, Christies evening sales of impressionist, modern and contemporary art raised $937.8 million, more than double the proceeds of the ONE auction.
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