“Gallery owners have historically proven to be the best collectors,” said Alex Rotter, Christie’s Chair of 20th and 21st Century Art, ahead of the May 9 auction of 36 works by late Swiss dealer siblings Thomas and Doris Ammann. That night, another acclaimed gallery owner – Larry Gagosian – helped make history when he won Andy Warhol’s “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” (1964) for $170 million ($195 million including fees). In 1986 it was Gagosian who had sold to Thomas Ammann. It is now the second most expensive work ever sold at auction and the most expensive work of art of the 20th century.
The staggering sum still fell short of expectations — the painting was valued at $200 million, while some hoped it would beat Leonardo da Vinci’s record-breaking runaway Salvator Mundi (c. 1500), which sold for $450 million in 2017 became.
Against a backdrop of falling stock markets, some sanity prevailed, but the Marilyn marked the end of a decent auction, with 33 of the other 35 diverse and often avant-garde works arriving within the auction estimate (two didn’t sell). total with Warhol $273 million ($318 million including fees, estimated $285 to $421 million). Another 66 works arrive from the Ammanns’ collection at Christie’s on May 13, with proceeds from all going to children’s charities.
New York’s selling season has only just begun. “After several years of supply and demand backlogs, it’s like an Olympic fortnight, and Ammann was the opening ceremony,” says Ben Clark, managing director of arts consultancy Gurr Johns. At the time of writing, there was still $2 billion worth of art coming to the evening auctions alone.
Christie’s began mixed-ownership sales on May 10 with 21st-century work, including trending younger artists. This totaled $87 million ($103 million including fees), which was within estimates but below original expectations given that two works by Jean-Michel Basquiat – including a 1982 triptych – were valued at $30 million US dollars is estimated – have been withdrawn. The auction as a whole was relatively subdued, perhaps due to the sheer volume on the block this month. The evening’s top prize was $33 million for Gerhard Richter’s 1994 “Abstraktes Bild” ($37 million including fees, estimated at $35 million).
There were still some signature increases for more recent works, including a 2019 painting by Ewa Juszkiewicz that sold for $1.3 million ($1.6 million with fees) on an estimate of $200,000-$300,000 . Yoshimoto Nara’s “Be Happy” (1995), which sold for around $350,000 in 2006, went for $6.4 million on Tuesday, while Jeff Koons went in the opposite direction. A copy of his Lobster (2007-12) was bought for $6.9 million in 2016 but resold this week for $3.8 million.
The extended auction season has not necessarily good news for the concurrent art fairs in New York. “People are waiting to see what happens in these sales,” says Manhattan retailer Emmanuel Di Donna, who was exhibiting at Tefaf New York (May 6-10). He sold works, including gouaches by Max Ernst and André Breton, although he said these fell in the $100,000 to $300,000 price range, “rather than several million dollars.”
Reported early sales from the Independent show (May 5-8) were mostly at even lower levels, including sold-out booths with paintings by Jennifer J Lee (Klaus von Nonspeakable Gallery, $10,000-$12,000) and artist Kent O’Connor of Los Angeles (Matthew Brown Gallery). At Nada New York, Charles Moffett, who recently opened a new gallery in Tribeca, announced a sold-out booth with eight new Julia Jo paintings for $12,000 each, including one for the ICA Miami Museum.
How the boundaries between them blur Auction houses and galleries, the mega-dealers are expanding their secondary market capacities. This week, David Zwirner is launching a submission tool that allows potential sellers to quickly submit their art for judging via desktop or mobile. The gallery hopes to attract supply to meet current demand for world-class art, says senior partner Kristine Bell.
Resales are nothing new for the gallery – Zwirner says they’ve been part of his business since inception in 1993 – but the move follows an increase in such deals, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and a lack of public exhibitions. “We were forced to be a private dealer,” says Zwirner. He describes the difference between the two businesses: “In the primary market, you’re trying to introduce people to something they don’t know; In the secondary market, they fill and identify gaps in their collections.”
While margins for new work tend to be higher (around 50 percent), the secondary market offers historical works of increasing value. Zwirner describes his commissions as “competitive” to the auction houses, where they can reach 26 percent. He says the gallery gets about 60 percent of its sales by value from the primary market and 40 percent from the secondary market. “If you have a Warhol ‘Shot Marilyn,’ you should go through an auction house, but for a lot of artists that doesn’t happen.” His gallery has had second-hand sales that have topped public auction records for artists like Joan Mitchell and Ad Reinhardt, says he.
The Tezos Foundation, the Swiss Non-profit arm of the Tezos blockchain network, has raised £1m to create a non-fungible token art collection. The funds were first entrusted to Misan Harriman, a photographer, NFT collector and social activist who is Chair of the Board of the Southbank Center in London. His plan is to focus on emerging artists from Africa and Asia.
“As a black man, at the top of my game in photography, I know how lucky I have been and every day I think of people who have lost the lottery of life due to the social economy of their situation. Smart contract technology gives the democratization of merit-based opportunities a chance,” says Harriman.
Works in the Tezos Foundation’s permanent art collection will be featured on its website and physically displayed “sooner rather than later,” says Arthur Breitman, co-founder of Tezos. The foundation holds about $1 billion in funds, he says.
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