Middle Market Muscle

From Damien Hirst to Sam Gilliam, Six- and Low-Seven-Figure Sales Are Surprising to the Upside

New Buyers Drive Hirst Market

Damien Hirst, N-Chlorodacetyl-L-Phenylalanine (PFS) Crystalline (£100-150k) £358k

Colin Gleadell spoke to the buyers at Frank Dunphy’s Yellow Ball sale studded with the work of his former client, Damien Hirst. Much has been made of the fall in Hirst’s auction volume and prices since the 2008 sale on the eve of the financial crisis. Those who mock Hirst—and, really, who among us hasn’t?—might want to take notice of what Gleadell reports:

  • “Ten years ago, leading up to his £111 million Beautiful Inside my Head Forever sale at Sotheby’s, Hirst prices were just too high,” [Alon Zakaim] said, comparing them with Monet. “Now they are about right, and the sale showed how deep the demand is at this level.”

  • Jonathan Cheung of the Maddox Gallery […] had his eye on about 10 works, but could buy only two. 

  • Gleadell and Sotheby’s Oliver Barker who has handled Hirst sales since closing of Hirst’s Pharmacy restaurant in 2004 observe that the Yellow Ball buyers were not OG Hirst market participants.

Pro tip: This is how markets work. Prices rise until they cannot be sustained any more. They fall into they attract new buyers. If new buyers don’t show up, prices can fall to zero. If new buyers do become interested in the market, prices will rise again until they become a barrier.


Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated Makes $30.89m

Sam Gilliam, Maybe ($100-150k) $435k

Last year, Sotheby’s pulled in $25.66m during its Fall mid-season Contemporary art sale now called Contemporary Curated. The year before that the sale did $15.16m or half the value of yesterday’s sale. The market was supposedly in a slump in 2016 but yesterday’s results topped even the Zombie Formalism-drunk top of 2014 when the same sale made $28m before slumping down to $18.9m during 2015’s broader market peak.

Is there a better measure of the bursting strength of the middle market than a five-year peak? Among the top lots in the sale were works by Frank Stella that made a strong $2.7m which means the hammer price was toward the low end of the estimate range. Kerry James Marshall posted another big number for a study for Past Times which made $1.8m. A Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No 169 sold for $1.695m, as did a George Condo, Girl with Ponytail. The Motherwell was at the low estimate and the Condo was at the high. Jonas Wood had a breakout work, Hunting with Mochi that made $1m over a $600k high estimate. An Adriana Varejao, Lingua Com Padrao de Flor doubled the high estimate to make $735k.

Sam Gilliam’s Maybe (above) nearly tripled the high estimate to make $435k. The same price was paid for an Avery Singer, Flute Soloist. Another Gilliam offered with a $70k high estimate ended up making $375k. Faith Ringgold too showed such bidding depth when it also made $375k over a $120k high estimate. Anne Truitt, the subject of an show at Matthew Marks right now, saw her Axilla sell for $325k against a $90k high estimate.

A small Willem de Kooning sold for $300k which had expectations of $120k to $180k. Kenneth Noland’s Greek Vision hit the same price but from lower estimates. Richard Hambleton saw similar rises. Kehinde Wiley had two works perform beyond expectations; Jenny Holzer, too.


Sotheby’s Rockefeller Sale

James Tarmy has catalogued Rockefeller wares high and low at Christie’s and regional auction houses turns his attention toward the Happy Rockefeller sale. The 450 lots are mostly furniture, jewelry, decorative works and the like but here are few items that might get lost in the shuffle:

  • “Two consoles by sculptor Alberto Giacometti are each estimated from $700,000 to $1 million, while a trio of floor lamps by the artist carry estimates from $200 to $300,000 apiece. There’s also a 1967 portrait of Nelson Rockefeller by Andy Warhol, which has an estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million. A 1933 work by Joan Miró carries an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000.”


Gagosian’s Viewing Room Opens Again for Frieze

For Art Basel in Switzerland, digital viewing rooms were the big innovation. They’re back for Frieze with Gagosian announcing the time and date for theirs:

  • Gagosian’s Frieze London Online Viewing Room will be live from 1 October through 10 October at gagosianviewingroom.com. Coinciding with the gallery’s presentations at Frieze London and Frieze Masters, the Online Viewing Room will feature works available exclusively online by artists including Helen Frankenthaler, Roy Lichtenstein, Sterling Ruby, and Jonas Wood.


Getty Opens African-American Art Research Center with Betye Saar Archive Purchase

The Getty announced yesterday that it was purchasing Betye Saar’s archive which ranges from “1926 to the present covering her entire career and her life as an artist. The archive includes documentation of Saar’s prolific artistic production and her notable works in diverse media: sketchbooks of ideas, concepts, and Saar’s travels; prints and drawings; book illustrations and commercial graphics, as well as profuse documentation of her assemblages and installations.”

The acquisition is the centerpiece of the newly announced African American Art History Initiative at the Getty Research Institute. The Getty is seeding the initiative with $5m before raising additional funds. The initial grant will provide for a dedicated curatorship in African American Art History, a bibliographer with a specialty in the subject, annual research graduate and post-graduate fellowships, a program to conduct oral histories of notable African American artists, scholars, critics, collectors and art dealers, and partnerships with other institutions.

Saar is not the first African American artist in the Getty Research Initiative. Adrian Piper, Kara Walker, Ed Bereal, Benjamin Patterson, Melvin Edwards, Lorna Simpson, Harry Drinkwater, and Mark Bradford are all represented.


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