New York and Hong Kong contemporary May sales confirmed the positive market trend at the start of 2021. While most blue chip artists returned to their pre-crisis prices, the frenzy over young painters was at its peak this month. As a result, many artists broke their auction records—big names and newcomers alike—with numerous seven to eight figure sales. In New York, the two main auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s sold 850 millions dollars worth of contemporary artworks, thus renewing with 2018’s level and its 890 millions dollars sales. As for Christie’s Hong Kong May sales, they generated a record-breaking $257 million, almost two times higher than 2019. The chapter of the pandemic eventually seems to come to end, but how long will it truly last?
Christie’s evening auction—the first session of New York auction week—saw the consecration of black artists, who accounted for more than a third of the lots (12 out of 32), an unprecedented performance. Many of them broke their auction records that evening, such as the British painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, who had her first major retrospective at the Tate Britain in 2021. Her large painting "Diplomacy III" was acquired for $1.95 million, the same price as Rashid Johnson record-breaking "Anxious Red Painting". We have been following these two painters for several years and are thus very pleased to see them perform in such an outstanding way.
Jordan Casteel, Nina Chanel Abney and Mickalene Thomas also broke their auction records at Christie’s evening sale with three paintings acquired for $687,500, $990,000 and $1.83 millon respectively.
But the most talked-about lot of the sale was undoubtedly Basquiat’s Skull painting, which was sold by its famous owner—and Valentino co-founder—Giancarlo Giammetti for a whopping $93 million. As for Salman Toor, one of his recent paintings was acquired for a respectable $475,000.
Sotheby’s New York evening sale was the highest grossing contemporary auction of the week. It brought in over $218 millions, mostly thanks to major lots by established artists. Cy Twombly and Basquiat, who both sold important paintings for $41.6 and $50.8 millions dollars respectively, accounted for almost half of the global outcome. In the eight-figure range, the late Afro-American painter Robert Colescott made a remarkable performance that evening. One of his most famous paintings representing a black version of George Washington crossing the Delaware was acquired for a skyrocketing $15.3 million—thus surpassing its already high estimate of 12 millions—almost 17 times higher than his previous auction record. In the same price range, Banksy recorded his second best auction result with a $12.9 million painting. This outrageous price was probably due to the method of payment as the previous owner accepted cryptocurrencies.
Among the new emerging scene, two of our favorite artists broke their auction records at Sotheby’s evening sale. Indeed, Salman Toor sold a small yet elegant painting called « The Arrival » for a whopping $867,000. As for Harold Ancart, a large-scale psychedelic landscape was acquired for $1 million, the first result of his career in this price range.
This Spring, Christie’s and Sotheby’s both had new sales complementing their evening sessions in New York. Christie’s 20th century auction included post-war paintings such as a $38 million Rothko, a few major multi-million dollar Warhol as well as a record-breaking $4.5 million Alighiero Boetti tapestry. As for Sotheby’s, the auction house organized the sale of Mrs. John L. Marion’s collection. Here again, blue-chip artists recorded pre-crisis performances such as Kenneth Noland and Richard Diebenkorn, who both broke their all-time records with a $4.2 target painting and $27.2 million abstract canvas respectively.
The improved balance on the market was also clear at Sotheby’s New York day sale. The auction house presented a large selection of works by both blue chip and young artists, who performed equally well. One the one end, artists like Josef Albers or Mark Rothko sold important paintings at a good price, while on the other end younger profiles such as Rashid Johnson and Laura Owens confirmed their market positions with the sales of a $528,200 Anxious Man painting and a $649,200 double portrait respectively.
Christie’s day sale was even more interesting, with a larger proportion of works from emerging artists. As a matter of fact, Salman Toor sold three paintings that day from past periods, the first of which is an old canvas from 2013 acquired for a whopping $687,500. Therefore, with works from different periods selling at equally high prices, the painter entered a more established category of artists in a remarkably short amount of time. Claire Tabouret also performed very well during the sale and even broke her all-time auction record with a $870,000 large-scale canvas.
This Spring, Christie’s and Sotheby’s recorded their best auction performances to date in China. After a remarkable month of april—with Sotheby’s high-grossing contemporary and modern sales—Christie’s Hong Kong may sales were also a great success. The evening session showed a great balance between $10 million-plus paintings and works by emerging artists.
At the high-end of the sale, the second most expensive Basquiat to be sold in Hong Kong was acquired for $30 million—two months after his 41 million « Warrior » painting. A $9.8 million Zao Wou-Ki painting and a $8.5 million canvas by Adrian Ghenie—his second best auction result—were among the top lots that evening. The emerging scene was very successful too, with young female artists like Loie Hollowell and Avery Singer breaking their auction record. Hollowell sold a $563,000 painting, while a large-scale canvas by Singer was acquired for a whopping $3 million.
Christie’s afternoon session in Hong Kong was filled with interesting works, such as a $1.1 million Still Life by Nicolas Party—his second best auction result yet—and a $2.9 million cubist portrait by George Condo. Daniel Richter confirmed the positive trend on his market with a $675,000 painting. On the emerging side of the spectrum, Robert Nava broke his auction record with a mid-sized canvas acquired for $305,000. He was not the only one that afternoon as Shara Hughes also recorded her best performance yet with a $612,000 painting.
The unprecedented success of Chinese art auctions this Spring confirmed the tectonic shift towards Asia. In this new global context, New York remains a major hub for contemporary art, where most of the $10 million-plus artworks are sold. However, while Hong Kong was mostly seen as a platform for young Asian collectors to acquire a certain type of artworks—from street art to emerging figurative painting—the situation is changing in 2021. Indeed, the high-end of the market is the fastest growing segment in Hong Kong. According to a recent study by Artnet, 10 artworks sold for $10 million in April, five times higher than 2019, which was already a record-breaking year for the city. The Asian market now appears more balanced between young collectors and older ones. Speaking of traditional collectors, they were back on the market in New York also after a year of standstill. This is good news regarding the rest of the year.