New York's Mid-Season Auctions Made $72.5m

Emerging artists continue to be the stars of the market

Marion Maneker

Wed, Mar 23, 2022

New York's Mid-Season Auctions Made $72.5m
Lee Bontecou, Untitled (1958) $718,200

The New York mid-season auctions totaled $72,550,634 with 550 lots offered and 467 sold. That’s a very strong 85% sell-through rate but notably lower than similar day sales in the more prominent auction cycles in New York and, even, recently in London.

Of the lots that sold a full 42% went for hammer prices above the estimate range; 36% sold within expectations; and another 20% of the lots were let go at compromise prices below the low estimate.

The hammer ratio for the sale (which measures the total hammer price divided by the aggregate low estimate and is an indicator of the underlying strength of market dynamics) was a very solid 1.24. Again, that’s lower than we’ve seen in Contemporary day sales held in recent months—but still quite strong.

The average price in the New York mid-season cycle was $155,355. That's a significant number but still much lower than the average values even in the day sales of the major auction events. 

The most expensive lots were Joan Mitchell’s Allo Amélie from 1973 which made $3.4 million. Wayne Thiebaud, who recently died on Christmas Day at the age of 101, had a still life of cherries in a bowl made in 1981 sell for $3.075 million. Ed Ruscha’s Kids made seven years later sold for $2.58 million. These well-known artists were somewhat out of place in sales that generally focus on emerging talent. At least, this season the dynamic bidding was for works by far lesser known talents.

Shara Hughes is not longer an unfamiliar name. Her 2018 painting Ignoring the Present was sold for $1.7 million which was more than four times the low estimate. Jonas Wood’s recent opening in February at David Kordansky in Los Angeles got a lot of attention around the Frieze art fair. That didn’t hurt Clipping A3 from 2013 when it sold for $1.6 million. The fair buzz didn’t help it much either. The work sold only slightly above the low estimate of $1.2 million.

Maria Berrio followed up her 2021 auction debut by finally breaking the million-dollar mark she almost nicked in November with a $1.56 million sale of a 2012 work, La Cena. That represented 3.5 times the asking price. Javier Calleja did almost as well selling Don’t Be Bad for $1.2 million or nearly twice the low estimate. In Calleja’s case, the estimate level doesn’t match the market’s expectations and there will have to be a recalibration soon.

Rounding out the top ten lots by price, Lynne Drexler’s deaccessioned works from 1962 made a whopping $1.19 million against a $40,000 low estimate. That’s a major recalibration. Jeff Koons’s Travel Bar from early in his career in 1986 made a solid but expected price at the same level. The final lot of the top ten works by price was another Thiebaud. This cityscape, Hillside Streets, was let go for a price 10% below the seller’s hopes. It made $1.13 million.

The chart above shows the top 25 lots plotted by price on the y-axis and hammer ratio on the x-axis so the most bid upon works are to the right and the most expensive works are on top. The size of the bubble also represents the price. This makes it easier to see that the highest value works in these sales did not break out from expectations; however, a number of other works by artists like Cecily Brown, Yoshitomo Nara, Alexander Calder, Lee Bontecou, David Hammons, Julian Schnabel and Emily Mae Smith did see strong bidding at meaningful prices.

Flipping the emphasis, we can see there’s a very different story when it comes to the works that saw the most aggressive bidding. That list is topped by the show-stopping Drexler work, Flowered Hundred. It made 23 times the low estimate. Next was a work by Oluwole Omofemi called Invader made in 2020 and sold for 15 times the low estimate at $189,000. Angeles Agrela saw an 11-fold increase over the estimate to sell for $56,700. Jordy Kerwick made a splash with two works that sold well above paltry estimates. One untitled work made $201,600 or more than 10 times the estimate and another Le Tigre made $277,200 which was eight times the estimate. That’s not bad for an artist who only began painting five years ago.

Sandwiched in between the Kerwick paintings on the most dynamic list was Sarah Slappey’s Yellow Touch from 2018 which made slightly more than $100,000 even though it was estimated at only $8,000. Caleb Hahne’s Autumn sold for $32,760 but that was more than eight times the $3,000 estimate. Emily Mae Smith’s Blow Up was sold for $529,200 which was also eight times the low estimate. That value level put her work on both lists but, like Calleja, it seems hardly credible that the estimate was anything more than an invitation to attract bidders.

Two other lower value works by Anthony Cudahy, Ian with Knots from 2017, and Isshaq Ismail, Oman Mu Nsem No. 4 from 2018, made $83,000 and $113,000 respectively. Besides the Smith and the Drexler, the most valuable work on this list was Julian Schnabel’s Salinas Cruz. The 1984 became his eight most expensive work sold publicly.

The chart below shows the top 25 works by hammer ratio. The vertical or y-axis is the hammer ration; the horizontal or the x-axis is the selling price. The bubbles are also sized to reflect the hammer ratio. Thus the Lynne Drexler is in the upper right corner with the largest bubble showing that her work sold for the highest hammer ratio and the highest price among the top 25 works by hammer ratio. Except for the works by Emily Mae Smith and Julian Schnabel already discussed. The bulk of the works on this list are below $250,000 in price and between five and ten times the estimate.