20th and 21st Century Evening Sales surpass $691 million, driven by Picasso and Basquiat

Christie’s trailblazing new sales week totals $775,272,750. Picasso’s Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) realises $103,410,000; Basquiat’s In This Case nets $93,105,000. New records set for 24 artists

Christie’s reimagined 20th and 21st Century evening sales realised a combined total of $691,585,500 over two nights in New York. A highlight of Christie’s spring 2021 season, the twin sales saw active bidding via New York, London, and Hong Kong phone banks as well as online, through Christie’s LIVE online bidding channel.

Streamed live from Rockefeller Center, the 20th Century Evening Sale on Thursday, 13 May realized a commanding $481,114,000, hammering 117 per cent above low estimate and 98 per cent by lot. The sale followed the inaugural 21st Century Evening Sale on Tuesday, 11 May, which totalled $210,471,500 and hammered 123 per cent above low estimate and 94.9 per cent by lot. Both sales welcomed registered bidders from 29 countries. 

The innovative new sales format made auction house history earlier this year, when it replaced traditional Impressionist and Modern Art and Post-War and Contemporary Art nomenclatures in response to shifts in collecting habits and a demand for new art. 

A combined 1,390,270 viewers tuned into the livestreamed events on 11 different platforms, from Christie’s website to various social media channels, including YouTube, Facebook and WeChat. 

In a unique and innovative partnership with Brioni and Microsoft, the 20th and 21st Century sales invited a virtual audience into the saleroom for the first time ever, by allowing guests of Christie’s ‘virtual skybox’ to be visible on the livestreams. Powered by Microsoft Teams, the enhanced auction viewing experience also included an immersive livestream camera offering a dynamic 360-degree view of the live-action saleroom for the first time.

Christie’s Global Head of Strategic Partnerships Lydia Fenet ushered in the new marquee week as host of 21st Century Evening Sale. Christie’s Deputy Chairman Tash Perrin hosted the 20th Century Evening Sale. Special guests Derek Blasberg and Precious Lee led the new format’s pre-show on Christies.com.

20th Century Evening Sale: A night of masterpieces 

Christie’s 20th Century Evening Sale brought together works by titans of Impressionist, modern and post-war art. While masterpieces could be found at every level, works by Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh achieved the top results for the evening.

Following an intense 19-minute bidding war between six bidders, auctioneer Adrien Meyer hammered down Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise près d'une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse)  for $103,410,000 — the top lot price of the week.

Inspired by Marie-Thérèse’s youthfulness and statuesque beauty, Picasso painted the work during the pivotal year of 1932 when he developed a new visual vocabulary around his chief muse at the time, placing the work among the artist’s most iconic paintings.

The second highest lot of the night, Claude Monet’s Waterloo Bridge, effet de brouillard  (1899-1903) achieved $48,450,000. One of the first of Monet’s celebrated London Series to enter an American collection in 1905, it was also one of the few left in private hands.  

‘We saw strong results for the masterpiece market tonight. Picasso’s jewel-toned depiction of Marie-Thérèse Walter was the top lot of evening, and the first work since May 2019 to surpass the $100 million benchmark, signalling a continued appetite for modern masterpieces,’ said Vanessa Fusco, Co-Head of the 20th Century Evening Sale. ‘We were especially lucky to have Monet’s Waterloo Bridge, effet de brouillard  in the sale, which achieved the highest price for the London Series.’

The third highest price of the night was brought in by Mark Rothko’s Untitled (1970), which realised $38,145,000. Vincent van Gogh’s Le pont de Trinquetaille (1888) was not far behind, achieving $37,400,000 in swift bidding. 

Outside the top lots, bidders showed strong interest in women artists early on in the night. 

Alice Neel, currently the subject of a major retrospective at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, saw Dr. Finger's Waiting Room (1966) realise $3,030,000, over four times the low estimate; Barbara Hepworth's Parent II (1971) hammered at $7,110,000; and Grace Hartigan’s magnificently coloured The Phoenix (1962) — the first time the artist has been presented in an evening sale — achieved $687,500 after animated bidding across multiple sale rooms. All reflect new artist records.

‘We saw incredible prices for female artists across the 20th century tonight,’ said Emily Kaplan, Co-Head of the 20th Century Evening Sale. ‘Barbara Hepworth and Grace Hartigan achieved new records. Alice Neel, who is having a real market moment and an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, doubled her previous auction record. We are so proud at the depth of modern and post-war women we were able to feature in this sale, as well as the depth of bidding and interest they drew in.’

Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920), Toweling Off, 1968. Oil on canvas. 29⅞ x 23¾ in (75.9 x 60.3 cm). Sold for $8,489,500 in 20th Century Evening Sale on 13 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York

One of the most popular lots of the night, Wayne Thiebaud’s Toweling Off  (1968) inspired six minutes of bidding across 17 phone lines later in the sale. 

Showcasing the best of Thiebaud's figurative practice, the work achieved $8,489,500 — almost five times its high estimate — the highest auction result for a figurative work by the 100-year-old artist. The work was last seen by the public in 1985, when it was included in a major retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

After just over two hours of spirited bidding, the 20th Century Evening Sale totalled $481,114,000 and set four new auction records, for Grace HartiganAlice NeelBarbara Hepworth and Alighiero Boetti.

21st Century Evening Sale: A night of records 

Christie’s new 20th and 21st Century week kicked off with its 21st Century Evening sale on Tuesday, 11 May that totalled $210,471,500 and saw records set for 11 artists, including Rashid Johnson, Larva Labs and Nina Chanel Abney.

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), In This Case, 1983. Acrylic and oilstick on canvas. 77⅞ x 73¾ in (197.8 x 187.3 cm). Sold for $93,105,000 in 21st Century Evening Sale on 11 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s In This Case (1983) headlined the sale. After a bidding battle between six international bidders, auctioneer Gemma Sudlow hammered down the top lot for a commanding $93,105,000 — the second highest price ever recorded for Basquiat at auction. In This Case  is one of only three monumentally sized skull paintings executed by the artist during his relatively short career and ranks among his greatest achievements. 

‘Tonight was an exciting night. After a year filled with disruption, we were able to put together an extraordinary group of artworks that represented the last 40 years, and the results speak to that,’ said Ana Maria Celis, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale. ‘Out of the 35 artists represented, 11 records were set. These records showcase an extremely diverse group of artists in race and nationality, and is a true representation of the art world today.’

Nina Chanel Abney (b. 1982), Untitled (XXXXXX), 2015. Acrylic, ink and spray paint on canvas, in two parts. Overall: 96 x 96 in (243.8 x 243.8 cm). Sold for $990,000 in 21st Century Evening Sale on 11 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York

After competitive international bidding, Nina Chanel Abney’s Untitled (XXXXXX)  soared past pre-sale estimates, achieving a record price of $990,000. Painted in the aftermath of the fatal shootings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in 2015, the work remains a poignant reminder of the prevailing issues surrounding the responsibility and ethics of policing.

In a first for an evening sale, NFTs featured among the lots on offer. Larva Labs’ 9 Cryptopunks: 2, 532, 58, 30, 635, 602, 768, 603 and 757  realised an impressive $16,962,500 after heated bidding between two New York phone bidders and an online bidder in Canada. Created in 2017 by Larva Labs, the Cryptopunks  pushed the boundaries of meaningful ownership in the digital space and are highly regarded as the beginning of today’s CryptoArt movement.

Rashid Johnson (b. 1977), Anxious Red Painting December 18th, 2020. Oil on linen. 72 x 96 in (182.9 x 243.8 cm). Sold for $1,950,000 in 21st Century Evening Sale on 11 May 2021 at Christie’s in New York

Works sold to benefit charities also drew top bids. Leading a selection in support of CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort), Rashid Johnson’s Anxious Red Painting December 18th (2020) achieved a record $1,950,000 — almost 10 times its low estimate. Works by Urs Fischer and Joel Mesler also contributed to a combined total of $2,725,000 for the organization dedicated to saving lives impacted by crisis, most recently focusing its efforts on COVID-19 relief.

The final lot of the night, Dana Schutz’s The Fishermen (2021), welcomed phone bidders across the United States and Asia. The work was donated by the artist to support the permanent conservation of 2.5 million acres of land in partnership with Art to Acres, an artist-run non-profit. The sale of the painting for $2,970,000 — almost seven times the low estimate — will receive a cumulative 300% in matching funds from partner organizations including: Andes Amazon Fund, Global Wildlife Conservation and the Wyss Foundation.

After two hours of animated bidding, the 21st Century Evening Sale totalled $210,471,500 and set 10 new auction records for artists including Alex Da Corte, Jordan Casteel, Jonas Wood, Nina Chanel Abney, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Larva Labs, Rashid Johnson, El Anatsui, Joel Mesler, Mickalene Thomas, as well as Martin Kippenberger, whose Martin, ab in die Ecke und schäm dich (Martin, Into the Corner, You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself) achieved a record for sculpture by the artist.

Christie’s 20th and 21st Century sale week concluded with day sales for Post-War and Contemporary Art and Impressionist and Modern Art, which brought in a combined total of $81,119,500 across three sales. The day sales set nine new artist records for McArthur Binion, Brian Calvin, Lynne Drexler, Susumu Kamijo, Louise Nevelson, Jules Olitski, Claire Tabouret, Yvonne Thomas and Betty Woodman

The final total for the week's evening and day sales was a resounding $775,272,750.  

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