By Lindsay Pollock and Philip Boroff
Nov. 11 (Bloomberg) — A 1983 graffiti-inflected Jean- Michel Basquiat painting that didn’t sell at Christie’s International’s New York auction sat propped up against a wall alongside two shipping crates at the company’s headquarters, a casualty of aggressive estimates.
The 16-foot-wide Basquiat, the projected top lot at last night’s auction, was expected to fetch at least $9 million. An Andy Warhol, with the second-highest estimate, also went unsold.
Some works sold for much more than their projections, pushing the auction’s final tally to $74.2 million, within the $61.5 million to $88 million target. Still, it was Christie’s smallest New York evening contemporary-art sale since May 2003, down 81 percent from the market’s peak 2 1/2 years ago.
“There is zero tolerance for overpriced or overestimated work now,” said dealer Lucy Mitchell-Innes, president of the Art Dealers Association of America. “The results are in line with the broader market. There is interest in buying, but it is more disciplined.”
Of 46 artworks offered, 39 sold. The surprise top lot was Peter Doig’s 1996 “Reflection (What does your soul look like),” depicting an image of the artist’s brother in a pond; it zoomed past a $6 million high estimate to fetch $10.2 million after heated competition among four bidders.
The seller bought it for about $11,000 the year it was painted, said Gordon VeneKlasen, director of the Michael Werner Gallery, one of Doig’s dealers.
With the art market laid low a year ago by the world financial crisis, expectations going into last night were modest.
“I was surprised at the buoyancy of the sale,” said collector Gilbert Harrison, chief executive of Financo, Inc., a boutique investment bank.
The saleroom was standing room only. Some dealers cited the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index’s 62 percent rally from its March low for the renewed confidence.
“The fear has dissipated,” said Peter Sahlman, an art advisor. “You can see the psychological change.”
Christie’s opened the auction with a collection of small- scaled choice paintings and drawings from the late avant-garde composer John Cage and his companion, choreographer Merce Cunningham, all gifts from artist friends. Cunningham died in July. The works, which are being sold to benefit the Merce Cunningham Trust, were tagged with drastically low estimates.
The most important was a geometric abstract gray 1980-81 Jasper Johns painting, “Dancers on a Plane” estimated to sell for up to $2 million. The painting sold for $4.3 million to an anonymous phone bidder; Johns had given the painting to Cunningham as a gift in 1981.
‘Vase of Flowers’
Other strong performers included Jeff Koons’ 1991 wooden sculpture of a blooming bouquet titled “Large Vase of Flowers,” from an edition of three, which sold for $5.7 million, within the $4 million to $6 million presale estimate. The seller was art publisher Benedikt Taschen, dealers said. Taschen bought the Koons at Christie’s in London in 2000 for $999,322.
An Andy Warhol portrait of Michael Jackson went for $812,500, above the $700,000 high estimate and nearly three times what a similar piece sold for at Christie’s in May.
The anonymous seller of the Basquiat, “Brother Sausage,” was Greenwich, Connecticut-based collector Peter Brant. In an interview, Brant, who’s embroiled in a divorce from model Stephanie Seymour, confirmed he consigned the piece; estimated to sell for up to $12 million, it received no bids.
Another major flop was Warhol’s 1963 “Tunafish Disaster,” estimated to fetch up to $8 million, which also received no bids. “Tunafish Disaster” was consigned to Christie’s by dealer Robert Mnuchin of L & M Arts, who got the painting from Brant, according to the tycoon. The painting’s subject is lifted from a 1963 article in “Newsweek” about two housewives who contracted a fatal case of botulism from a can of tuna.
Sotheby’s auctions a smaller “Tunafish Disaster” tonight at its contemporary-art sale.
The painting was “too sophisticated, too intellectual,” for most collectors, said Christie’s International Co-Head of Contemporary art, Brett Gorvy, in a press conference.