New York auction houses’ calendars align with Armory Week

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New York auction houses are holding sales in September to take advantage of The Armory Show and its satellite fairs, which bring many collectors from other parts of the country and world into the city—and to get an early start on an autumn art market season that typically peaks in November with the major evening auctions.

Bonhams New York will sell Robert Colescott’s colourful painting 1919 (1980) in a special single-lot auction at its Manhattan salesroom on 8 September, the day after The Armory Show’s VIP preview. Ralph Taylor, the auction house’s global head of post-war and contemporary art, attributed the scheduling to “partly opportunism and partly flexibility”.

“The single-lot auction concept is really about when you have something very special that you don’t want to risk being crowded out or eclipsed in a much busier auction season—say, November,” Taylor says.

By holding a September sale, Bonhams “can benefit from the lack of distractions from other competitors, but also in an incredibly fertile environment” after summer ends, when collectors are “refreshed and ready to go after not spending much money on art for a couple of months”.

The painting, which explores the racial identity of Colescott’s family in the wider context of US history and culture, is estimated to bring between $3m and $5m, which would make it one of the most valuable of the artist’s works sold at auction. Bonhams will also hold a special exhibition surrounding 1919 in its New York gallery before the sale, Taylor says. In February, Bonhams sold Colescott’s Miss Liberty (1980) for $3.7m ($4.5m with fees) during an auction in Los Angeles that coincided with Frieze Los Angeles. (New York audiences will have seen 1919 just last year, when Colescott’s critically acclaimed travelling retrospective was at the New Museum.)

Meanwhile, Sotheby’s is introducing a new series of online fashion sales to capitalise on the heightened attention of both The Armory Week and New York Fashion Week, when designers’ seasonal collections are unveiled. The auction house is also holding a number of luxury sales for items including watches, jewellery and wine in early September.

Sales at Sotheby’s will be headlined by a sweater emblazoned with sheep that was previously worn by the late Diana, Princess of Wales. The princess was photographed wearing the sweater in June 1981, shortly after her engagement to Prince Charles was announced. Publicity for the sweater, which features a repeating design of white sheep with a single black one, quickly translated into a surge of popularity for its creators, Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne, and their knitwear label Warm & Wonderful. Appearing at auction for the first time, the sweater is estimated by Sotheby’s to sell for between $50,000 and $80,000.

“The number of historical figures that really are remembered for their fashion and their sense of style is so few,” says Cynthia Houlton, the global head of fashion and accessories at Sotheby’s. “But this is 40 years later, and we’re fascinated by the same sweater.”

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