Sotheby’s Quietly Brings $20m Warhol, $15m Basquiat to Market


Sotheby’s Evening sale of Contemporary art is online now and we can see a few interesting things from the line up. The first is that Sotheby’s has a fairly large sale for these down times with 64 lots on offer. That’s because the evening will open with 25 lots devoted to the Ames collection. Only at lot 26 will we get to the traditional curtain-raisers designed to chum the waters.

This November, those works are one of Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s highly sought after works. Her market has been so controlled by her dealers refusing to sell to anyone who is not a museum or an institutional-level collector it would appear they were trying to create irresistible conditions for art flipping. After Crosby, it’s a gold Stingel of the sort no one seems to be able to get enough of this Autumn. Mark Bradford rounds out the lead-off positions and, almost surprisingly, Yoshitomo Nara bats clean up.

Well, it would be clean up if the sale weren’t already half over. Shortly after a few more tantalizing lots like an Sturtevant, Flag at $3-4m, we get the first surprise, a 1983 Basquiat multi-panel work, Brother’s Sausage, that is estimated at $15-20m but has an irrevocable bid presumably near the $15m low. The work is also guaranteed by Sotheby’s.

Two lots later, there’s a large Warhol fright wig self portrait on offer for $20-30m. That too is both guaranteed and hedged with an irrevocable bid. And the work’s appearance is interesting given the pause we’ve seen in the Warhol market this year. Last year, at this time, Sotheby’s sold a $47.5m Warhol Mao and Christie’s made $36m with Four Marilyns.

An $11.5m Little Electric Chair and a $11.9m Gun rounded out the big money eight-figure Warhols. Since then, there have been 17 Warhols sold for more than $1m according to Artnet’s database. Only two went for more than $5m, both by Sotheby’s. One of those was a $7.5m soup can and the other was, you guessed it, a smaller green fright wig self portrait the that the auction house sold in May for $7.6m.

Christie’s is putting a toe in the Warhol market too. It’s hard to sell Contemporary art without trading in the iconic figure’s work. But of their four Warhols on offer, not are estimated above the sensible $3-6m range where the artist’s work has been trading all year