Last Friday in New York, Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale totalled $32 million with 79% of lots sold, and more than half of all sold lots achieving prices above their high estimates.
Charlotte Van Dercook, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated auctions in New York, said: “We are thrilled with the results from last Friday’s sale, as we continued the tremendous momentum for the sale series, achieving our fourth consecutive total above $30 million. Led by exceptional examples by Wayne Thiebaud, Donald Judd, Lee Bontecou, Yoshitomo Nara and David Hockney, we saw a depth of bidding across categories, medium, and period, with particular interest from private collectors. We were also excited to see exceptional results for contemporary female artists, which attracted strong bidding throughout both sessions, highlighted by the new auction record for Simone Leigh, as well as outstanding prices for works by Lisa Yuskavage, Elizabeth Peyton and Julie Curtiss.”
The morning session began with a trio of California landscapes by Wayne Thiebaud, which together outperformed their $5 million high estimates to achieve $5.3 million. Leading the group was Civic Center, a radiant and expansive oil from 1986 that brought $3.3 million. A particularly warm and sensual example of Thiebaud’s Delta Paintings, River Ponds from 1998 sold for $1.3 million, besting its $1.2 million high estimate.
The wonderfully rhythmic oil painting memorializes the artist’s deep connection with California’s Sacramento River Delta—his home for the past several decades—and demonstrates the masterful handling of pigment for which he is known. Palm Ridge Intersection, a meticulous and dynamic work on paper from 1989, more than doubled the $300,000 high estimate to achieve $698,000.
Acquired by the present owner in 2010, Yoshitomo Nara’s Fire from 2009 sold for $1.2 million, surpassing its $900,000 high estimate. In Fire, Nara places his viewer in a cerebral encounter with a figure that embodies the very essence of childhood by conflating two important archetypes—the rebellious youth and the lonely child—in order to emphasize both naivete and mischief. The mischievous gaze and defiant twist of the little girl’s hand from view make her the singular most iconic figure in Nara’s overall output.
Further distinguishing the morning session, a sublime example of Lee Bontecou’s large-scale wall sculptures fabricated in the early 1960s, Untitled sold for $1.2 million, meeting its high estimate. Created in 1965, the work encapsulates Bontecou’s ability to condense the dreams, anxieties, and fears of her time into sculptural form, making her one of the most important artists in New York in the 1960s. In addition, a large-scale bronze sculpture by Igor Mitoraj, For Hadrian established a new auction record for the Polish artist when it sold for $584,000 – nearly five times the $120,000 high estimate.
Opening the afternoon session, Simone Leigh’s Decatur (Cobalt) from 2015 established a new auction record for the artist, soaring past its $80,000 high estimate to achieve $337,500. The engrossing sculpture, crafted from terracotta and hundreds of hand-rolled porcelain rosettes, is a striking example of the artist’s signature investigative subject matter. The delicacy of the figure’s coiffure and the strength of her eyeless gaze demand respect and admiration for a medium—and a demographic—traditionally ignored by the art world.
Further highlights included a pair of works on paper by David Hockney that drew spirited bidding both in the room and online: Gregory in the Pool (Paper Pool 4) from 1978 and Lake House, Como, Rain from 2003 each brought $692,000 and $620,000. The bright blues, yellows and oranges in Gregory in the Pool foreshadow the artistic themes he would explore more fully in Los Angeles in the coming years (estimate $350/450,000). Lake House, Como, Rain (estimate $250/350,000) is a preparatory drawing for what would later serve as a backdrop for Hockney’s Portrait of Cavafy in Alexandria.