Basquiat, Rothko and Modigliani lead Christie’s 20th and 21st Century Evening Sales

The week saw strong performances from works across modern, post-war and contemporary art, realising $548,287,704 and totalling over $2 billion with the inclusion of the Paul G. Allen Collection

On 17 November, Christie’s New York kicked off the 20/21 marquee week series with the 20th and 21st Century Evening Sales. Welcoming more than 2.2 million viewers across Christie’s global platforms, the evening featured important works spanning modern, post-war and contemporary art. 

The 20th Century Evening Sale realised $307,945,300, selling 96 per cent by lot and 88 per cent by value. The 21st Century Evening Sale immediately followed, realising $114,091,400. The contemporary sale sold 89 per cent by lot and 95 per cent by value. The combined total for the evening was $422,036,700. Together, the sales were 93 per cent sold by lot and 90 per cent sold by value. 

Eight artists set auction records across both sales, including Emile Bernard, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Noah Davis, Eva Gonzales, Rashid Johnson, Minjung Kim, Paul Serusier and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. An additional 14 records were set in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale, bringing the week's total to 23. 

Led by auctioneers Jussi Pylkkänen, Adrien Meyer and Georgina Hilton, the night attracted bidders from 24 countries, in addition to those present in the room. 

The top lot of the evening was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Sugar Ray Robinson, selling for $32,679,000 in the 21st Century Evening Sale. The two top lots of the 20th Century Evening Sale were Mark Rothko’s Untitled and Amedeo Modigliani’s Beatrice Hastings (devant une porte), which each realised $17,565,000. 

‘Over the past two weeks we have sold over two billion dollars’ worth of art, which is unprecedented,’ said Johanna Flaum, Vice Chairman of 20th and 21st Century Art. ‘This has been the largest season ever seen, and most of it has gone to philanthropic causes.’

The 20th and 21st Century Day Sales and Picasso Ceramics online sale, brought in an additional $126,251,004, bringing the week's total to $548,287,704. Combined with the exception sale of the Paul G. Allen Collection the week prior, Christie's fall season has reached an impressive, $2,170,537,204. 

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1969. Acrylic on paper laid down on canvas. 48½ x 40½ in (123.2 x 102.9 cm). Sold for $17,565,000 in 20th Century Evening Sale on 17 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

20th Century Evening Sale 

The night began with the 20th Century Evening Sale, which realised $307,945,300, selling 96 per cent by lot and 88 per cent by value. The top lots of the night were Amedeo Modigliani’s Beatrice Hastings (devant une porte) and Mark Rothko’s Untitled, from 1969, both of which sold for $17,565,000. 

Modigliani’s portrait of his first muse, Beatrice Hastings — the so-called poétesse anglaise — is one of numerous works with her as the subject, with other examples on view at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and the University of Chicago. The work reflects the pair’s often tumultuous romance while also highlighting the productive creative collaboration they had over the course of two years.

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), Beatrice Hastings (devant une porte), 1915. Oil on canvas. 32 x 18¼ in (81.3 x 46.4 cm). Sold for $17,565,000 in 20th Century Evening Sale on 17 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

Mark Rothko’s Untitled, from 1969, made just a few months before his death, is a lasting treatise on Rothko’s unique form of abstraction. It is the synthesis of the artist’s desire to illustrate the most essential aspects of the human condition. Active brushwork formed the essence of his painting where he explored the good versus evil, dark versus light dichotomy that he felt related to all of humanity. 

The second highest price achieved was Joan Mitchell’s Untitled, which sold for $14,130,000. An exuberant, monumental work that attests to the freedom and confidence she felt in her later years, it was made while she was prepping for a show at Robert Miller Gallery in 1989. A celebration of everything the artist held dear, the work’s joyful, ebullient light tones are counterbalanced with poignant moments of darkness.

Joan Mitchell (1925-1992), Untitled, 1989. Diptych—oil on canvas. 76¾ x 102⅞ in (194.9 x 260.7 cm). Sold for $14,130,000 in 20th Century Evening Sale on 17 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

Led by Mitchell, works from the Roger Sant Collection were standouts. Paul Serusier’s Filles aux grands sables and Emile Bernard’s Bretonnerie (Bretonnes dans une prairie) set artist records and signalled a growing interest in Les Nabis artistic movement. The collection realised $51,386,400, across all sales, with proceeds benefitting the Summit Foundation.

Works from the collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann — which turned heads last season with the record-shattering sale of Shot Sage Blue Marilyn — also featured prominently in both of the evening sales. Paintings by Robert Ryman, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Brice Marden, among others in both Evening and Day sales, achieved a combined $34,048,204. 

Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Frau, das Gesicht verbergend, 1912. Gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper. 12¼ x 18⅞ in (31.5 x 48 cm). Sold for $2,580,000 in 20th Century Evening Sale on 17 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

Frau, das Gesicht verbergend and Frau mit schawrzer Schürze, two works by Egon Schiele from the collection of Fritz Grünbaum, sold for a combined $3,084,000. Grünbaum was an avid collector of Schiele, purchasing over 80 works by the artist over the course of his life. The collection was lost when the Nazis invaded Austria in the late 1930s. Only recently were the paintings returned to the family, following a years-long fight for their restitution. 

The auction saw three artist records set by Emile Bernard, Eva Gonzales and Paul Serusier. The 20th Century sale was capped by Ernie Barnes’ One-On-None, from 1979, which sold for $945,000, more than ten times its high estimate, continuing the artist’s remarkable rise since last season’s monumental sale of Sugar Shack

21st Century Evening Sale 

After a short break, the night continued with the 21st Century Evening Sale, achieving a total of $114,091,400. The sale sold 89 per cent by lot and 95 per cent by value.

Early on, Salman Toor’s 4 Guests — which was generously donated by the artist to benefit CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort) — sold for $856,800. Deeply committed to supporting communities in need, CORE will devote the entirety of their proceeds to aid relief efforts for the more than 33 million people affected by the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan in June of this year.

Rashid Johnson (b. 1977), Surrender Painting "Sunshine," 2022. Oil on linen. 72 x 96 in (182.9 x 243.8 cm). Sold for $3,000,000 in 21st Century Evening Sale on 16 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

Rashid Johnson’s Surrender Painting ‘Sunshine’ from 2022, which was donated by the artist to benefit Right of Return USA, sold for $3,000,000. The organisation’s proceeds will benefit the only national initiative that supports and mentors formerly incarcerated creatives. 

Johnson’s painting was a record for the artist. Records were also set for Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Noah Davis, Minjung Kim and Jaune Quick-To-See Smith. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Sugar Ray Robinson from 1982 realised $32,679,000. The work is a culmination of the many facets of Basquiat’s genius, speaking to both the boxer’s meteoric rise and the adversity he faced throughout his life. Here, Sugar Ray enters Basquiat’s personal pantheon of heroes, whose lived experiences often mirrored his own.

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), Sugar Ray Robinson, 1982. Acrylic and oilstick on canvas. 59⅞ x 48¼ in (152.1 x 122.6 cm). Sold for $32,679,000 in 21st Century Evening Sale on 17 November at Christie's New York

Another work that contends with nostalgia and memory, Jeff Koons’s Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train — exhibited in dozens of cities around the world — sold for $16,992,500. Made of polished steel and filled with Jim Beam Bourbon, the sculpture recalls the advertising sensibility of the early 20th century, when companies promoted a romanticised vision of the past to comfort a population caught up in the speed of daily life. Koons, combining this false nostalgia with false luxury, uses the same sentimental imagery. This startling dichotomy invites a further examination of the interior process, and Koons’s overall conceptual strategy.

Jeff Koons (B. 1955), Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train, 1986. Stainless steel and bourbon. 11 x 114 x 6½ in (27.9 x 289.6 x 16.5 cm). Sold for $16,992,500 in 21st Century Evening Sale on 17 November at Christie's New York

Christopher Wool’s Untitled, a towering work of beauty, detail and rigour, sold for $8,977,500. Part of the esteemed Taschen Collection, the painting encapsulates the artist’s decades-long goal to upend art and language. An important moment within Wool’s ever-evolving oeuvre, Untitled has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh and the Museo Nacional Centro de Art Reina Sofia in Madrid. 

20th and 21st Century Day Sales

The Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale concluded on 18 November, totalling $78,025,524. Bringing in bidders from 36 countries, the two sessions were 91 per cent sold by lot and 115 per cent sold against the low estimate. 

The sale saw an additional 13 artists records, including Alpha Centauri Kid, A-One, Angeles Agrela, Frederic Anderson, Russell Craig, Dondi, Futura 2000, Jenna Gribbon, Jesse Krimes, Frida Orupabo, Adam Pendleton, Mosie Romney and Sally Saul. As well as a record for a work on paper by Cecily Brown. The top lot of the sale was Joan Mitchell's Conte Bleu (c. 1962), which achieved $3,420,000 after having been in the same private collection for over 50 years. 

The Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale and the Impressionist & Modern Works on Paper Sale wrapped on 19 November for a combined total of $46,766,652. The Works on Paper Sale totalled $14,814,012, selling 91 per cent by value, and 122 per cent hammer against low estimate, while the Day Sale totalled $31,952,640 selling 90 per cent by value and 103 per cent against the low estimate. 

Works by Claude Monet led both sales. Monet's work on paper, Coucher de soleil sold for $3,300,000 — more than double its low estimate — setting a record for the artist in the medium. In the Day Sale his Deux femmes en barque, achieved $2,820,000.

The exciting week concluded on 21 November with Picasso Ceramics, which realised $1,458,828, bring the combined total for the week to $548,287,704. 

Christie's closed out its two-week fall season, including Visionary: The Collection of Paul G. Allen and the 20th and 21st Century Sales, with a combined total of $2,170,537,204

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