LiveArt After Action Report: The Thomas & Doris Ammann Collection (Christie’s New York)

How we should think about the Warhol sale plus impressive prices for Cy Twombly, Ann Craven, and Mary Heilmann

The Bullet: $317,806,490 with 94% sold (34/36) with a hammer ratio of 4.35

Composition of Results: 52% above/ 30% within/ 8% below estimates (19/11/3)

For a detailed analysis of the sale results, click here.

Why Everyone Watched: In the end, Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964) was a fizzle. Just as the lot came up for sale, auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen explained that Thomas Amman bought the painting from Si Newhouse through Gagosian Gallery. Larry Gagosian piped up from the audience, “That’s right!” It would prove prophetic as bidders emerged briefly at $145 million with a quick flurry that stopped at $170 million, which was Gagosian’s bid. The room froze as Pylkkanen patiently allowed at least three telephones to mull the prospect of bidding against Gagosian for the trophy. In the end, they all demurred.

How Should We Think About the Warhol Sale? There was frustration at the post-sale press conference among some Christie’s specialists as reporters grilled the auction house over the $200 million pre-sale guidance.  

A sale price at $195 million is 15% off a $200 million estimate, though everyone in the room was aware of the precipitous slide in the stock market over the last few days. The S&P 500 closed 10% higher at the end of Wednesday than it did on Monday.  

Shot Sage Marilyn nearly doubles the record price for a Warhol. The previous record was set when Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), 1963 sold for $104.5 million in 2013.

The market may not have been the problem. Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti wasn’t ready to write the week off, but he did point out that the geographical breakdown of bidders for the Ammann sale was 45% American, 45% EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa), and only 10% Asia. That’s a huge drop in Asian participation. It could be because the Ammanns are Swiss and not well known in Asia. (And there wasn’t much of a lift across the board for their provenance on works with ample track records.) But the current state of the war in Ukraine and Chinese support for Russia may have chilled the potential for Asian billionaires to participate on such a high profile lot.

Where does this leave the other Marilyns? Gagosian presumably bought the painting for a client. That client got a good deal considering someone else paid $240 million for the Orange Marilyn five years ago. Where does that leave the Light Blue Marilyn owned by 75-year-old Peter Brant and the Red one owned by 68-year-old Philip Niarchos? Brant is a bit older than Marcos. It may be too soon for either to think about the disposition of their collections. Presumably a huge sale for the Shot Sage Blue Marilyn would have set up an enormous payday for the light blue one. That sale will probably have to wait until the next upswing in global markets. 

Speaking of Peter Brant: One of the most aggressively bid upon lots was Francesco Clemente’s The Fourteen Stations, No. XI (1981). It had an $80,000 estimate, but no one believed it would go for anywhere near that. Nonetheless, the 19 times estimate sale price of $1.86 million was impressive. The work went to Peter Brant bidding in the room. Clemente, Julian Schnabel, David Salle and Eric Fischl all came of age together in New York during the 1980s. Schnabel and Salle have had recent moments in the sun as new shafts of interest alight on their work. At Christie’s later this week, Fischl’s The Old Man’s Boat and the Old Man’s Dog from 1982 comes up at Christie’s later this week with a $2 million estimate. That number would already be a new record for the artist and these are the works that set his record prices. 

The Lot(s) We Will Be Talking About the Most: Overall it was a subdued night. Can we blame that on the stock market carnage? Maybe. But art buyers tend to view the art market as an alternative to the stock market. The Dow isn’t an ATM for buying art. But the overall mood, with the war and politics all going haywire at once, isn’t conducive to exuberance. 

Overall Cy Twombly had a really good night. Gagosian, his dealer, was bidding on everything by Twombly. The large work on paper in the artist’s frame that hung in the Ammann home, Venere Sopra Gaeta, sold for a very strong $16.9 million. An early work from his first solo show made $20.1 million and a sculpture sold just before the Warhol made a respectable $2.7 million. 

Andy Warhol had a soft night. The big Flowers painting sold for a price below the $15 million low estimate to net just above $15.8 million; a Warhol collaboration with Basquiat depicting a General Electric logo sold for $4.6 million, which is right in line with the prices paid for four other Warhol-Basquiat collabs with that logo. They made $5.7 million, $4.3 million and $2.2 million in the last five years.

Ann Craven is a 54 year-old artist represented by hip gallery Karma. She made a painting specifically for Doris. That seemed to intrigue bidders who paid 26 times the low estimate of $20,000 for the work or $680,400 with premium. Her previous top auction price was $94,000.

Mary Heilmann also bested her record auction price by nearly three times when The Passenger sold for $945,000. Her previous record was $320,000. 

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