Art in demand: Crypto, Picassos headlines strangest selling week in memory

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For the first time in 14 months, the auction schedule behaves as before Covid-19, as rivals Christie’s and Sotheby’s prepare for a week of evening and daytime sales in New York City. The events will start on May 11 and end on May 14.

The terms “masterpiece” and “museum quality” are once again underused by auction specialists, and Sotheby’s will even allow bidders in person, albeit in a very limited capacity.

But even though the calendar looks like it’s being used and auction house specialists ring the same notes, the makeup of the auctions themselves, especially in contemporary art categories, is remarkably different from that of past years.

“I think you’re right to do a double take, because we’ve made a conscious decision this season to mix things up,” says Sara Friedlander, vice president of the post-war and contemporary art department at Christie’s in New York. . “This is a sale that I think offers a wider variety of prices than we have ever done before.”

Big ticket items



At Sotheby’s, an hour before its May 12 contemporary art auction, works from the estate of the late oil heiress Anne Marion will arrive in block, including a rare 1948 Clyfford Still which bears a high estimate of 18 millions of dollars and more.

Then, at the official evening sale, Sotheby’s will offer Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Versus Medici 7 feet high, with a high estimate of $ 50 million, and a 1970 Cy Twombly “chalkboard” painting that bears a high estimate of $ 45 million.

Together, the Sotheby’s Marion sale and its contemporary art evening sale are estimated at $ 400 million.

Not to be outdone, Christie’s also has a Basquiat priced at “over $ 50 million” in its May 11 evening sale in the 21st century. Two days later, at its 20th century evening auction on May 13, the auction house will feature a painting by Claude Monet of the Waterloo Bridge from 1903, estimated at around $ 35 million; a Picasso portrait of his lover Marie-Thérèse from 1932 which carries an estimate of around $ 55 million; and a deep blue and green painting by Mark Rothko from 1970, the year of his death, which carries an estimate of around $ 40 million.

Christie’s 21st Century Evening Sale carries a high estimate of $ 200 million; its 20th century evening sale carries a high estimate of $ 440 million.

Art in demand

Still, this week’s auctions stand out primarily for the abundance of lower-priced items, which make up a surprisingly diverse sample of what Friedlander says is currently in demand.

A work by Alex da Corte, an artist whose installation on the rooftop garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is igniting New Yorkers’ Instagram feeds, is estimated at just $ 60,000 to $ 80,000, and a 2019 painting by Salman Toor, whose recent solo show at the Whitney Museum was a must see, puts an estimate of $ 100,000 to $ 150,000.

Sotheby’s offers a more established mix in its contemporary evening auction, with prices rising much faster. But he also has a Toor (The Arrival) which was in Whitney’s show and is expected to fetch $ 60,000 to $ 80,000.

Crypto breaks through

In another major break with tradition, Christie’s will include an NFT group called Crypto Punks. The raw digital images of cartoon heads are hooked up to blockchain technology and have become a cult collector’s item in the crypto space. Bidders can pay for the collection, which brings an estimate of $ 7 million to $ 9 million in Ether.

And at Sotheby’s, a Banksy work, Love is in the Air, estimated between $ 3 million and $ 5 million, can also be paid in Ether or Bitcoin, although the buyer will have to pay the buyer’s premium in fiat currency.

Friedlander says it’s too early to tell if NFT’s bidders are interested in the more traditional art of selling as well. “It’s still early days,” she said.

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