Christie’s First Big Auction of the Fall Season in New York Disappoints as Blue-Chip Artists Flounder

Christie’s first evening sale of the marquee November auctions in New York fell short of expectations, hammering beneath its low estimate and failing to deliver strong results for well-established artists.

Held on Tuesday night, the sale was dedicated to art made in the 21st century and hammered at $88.4 million, about $8 million short of its $96 million presale estimate. With premium, it netted just $107.5 million across 42 lots.

Records usually boost morale during lackluster sales, and indeed, there were four during this auction: Jadé Fadojutimi, Jenna Gribbon, Jia Aili, and Ilana Savdie all saw new benchmarks set. But overall, the atmosphere was subdued, with many of the most valuable lots failing to reach their low estimates.

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Thirteen of the lots were secured with financial backing via in-house or third-party guarantees. Even still, the result fell below the $114 million achieved in last year’s equivalent sale, which featured even fewer lots.

Notable works by Cy Twombly and Jean-Michel Basquiat are typically surefire hits at auction, but even these pieces could not inject momentum.

Twombly’s Untitled (Bacchus 1st Version II), a red-hued abstraction painted on a wood panel, was estimated to fetch a price up to $25 million. The large painting had last been exhibited publicly at a Gagosian-organized show in Moscow in 2008, and if bidders had hotly anticipated its return to market, it did not show in the bidding. The piece hammered at $17 million, well below its low estimate, going to a bidder in the room for a final price of $20 million.

Meanwhile, a 1981 untitled painting by Basquiat hammered at its low estimate of $10 million, going for $11.9 million with fees. Works by John Currin, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, George Condo, and Mark Bradford similarly struggled to attract attention, with each failing to make it past its low estimate.

“[Christie’s] did a good job of pricing things right, but it was still stressful, I think, behind the rostrum,” art adviser Hugo Nathan told ARTnews. “The most obvious thing is that the artists that were leading the market ten years ago—Jeff Koons, John Currin—aren’t seeing the results they used to.”

Christie’s New York sale room, November 7, 2023.

Instead, it was artists with less established markets that shined here—most notably female figurative painters.

A painting by the Berlin-based artist Stefanie Heinze was the sale’s opening lot. It hammered at $190,000, more than three times the estimate of $60,000, going to a bidder on the phone with a Christie’s New York contemporary art specialist. That work was followed by Los Angeles–based painter Jenna Gribbon’s Regarding Me Regarding You and Me (2020). The painting, an image of Gribbon’s nude partner, was expected to sell for $150,000; it sold for more than three times that sum, finding a buyer for a price of $478,800 with premium.

Jenny Saville’s Persephone (2019–21), an image of a woman’s head surrounded by gestural pink brushstrokes, hammered above its high estimate of $3 million, selling for a final price of $3.7 million with fees.

Paintings by Jadé Fadojutimi and Jia Aili went for $4 million and $1.7 million, respectively. Those results put these paintings among the few lots by living artists made in the last few years to sell in the seven figures— each high of the figures were new records for the artists.

A work by Brooklyn-based painter Sanya Kantarovsky provided one of the night’s few surprises. His 2022 painting Charnal Field, featuring a partially underwater skeleton, went for $201,600, nearly doubling its high estimate. The painting ultimate sold to a bidder on the phone with Tan Bo, a representative based in Christie’s Beijing office.

Robert Colescott’s Eat dem Taters (1975), a painting that replaces the potato eaters of a famed van Gogh painting with Black figures, likewise fared well. Relatives of American art historian Robert Rosenblum, who died in 2006, had owned the painting since the year it was made and had even loaned it to a recent New Museum survey for Colescott. The work, one of the few historically significant lots in the sale that wasn’t valued in the high millions, went for $3.9 million total with fees, meeting its high estimate.

Correction, 11/8/23, 10:05 a.m.: A previous version of this post misstated how many records were set during this auction. There were four, not none.

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