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Positive signs

The official shop window of the global art market consists of a series of sales at auction organized twice a year in New York by Christie’s, Sotheby’s and to a lesser extent Phillips. At the time of writing this article the results of the May sales of modern and contemporary art, which are not yet over, seem to be showing extremely positive signs. Out of the mass of artworks sold, 39 lots exceeded 10 million dollars, totalling over a billion dollars for these alone.

Controlling the message

Basquiat: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict

These companies, conscious of the impact of their results, will do everything they can to control the message at auction, withdrawing pieces at the last minute in necessary if they won’t find a buyer and would cause a bad opinion of the trend. This is the case for example of a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1982 “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict”, estimated at 30 million dollars, which last February was presented as the leading artwork in the contemporary art sale at Christie’s and which, at the last minute, was removed from the catalogue on 12 May.

Yusaka Maezawa

Nothing like happened to another Basquiat, from the same year, of an exceptional size, 5 metres long, put up for sale o at Phillips by the famous Japanese collector, Yusaka Maezawa that i interviewed in 2018 at Fondation Louis Vuitton. This composition, animated at its centre by a large black mask with horns, would seem to have been guaranteed – a sum paid regardless of the outcome at auction – by a Taiwanese collector for 70 million dollars. It was sold for 85 million dollars.

Asian buyers

For the past few years, Asia and particularly mainland China have been the major strike forces in the market. According to local hearsay, a number of buyers, within a context of the tightening of Chinese policy and the public health crisis, are less active than in the past. For now their minimal presence (10% of bidders originated, according to Christie’s, from the Asia-Pacific zone) seems to be compensated for by the United States. For art more generally seems to be a good haven for high-end investments during a period of heightened uncertainty across all areas. Analysis in 6 artworks.


Man Ray Le Violon d’Ingres. 1924

While Man Ray’s legacy was established with his photos, the American artist who lived in France at the heart of the surrealist group didn’t want to be confined to this category. In 1924 he made a gesture that was comparable to that of Marcel Duchamp in 1919 when he added a moustache to the Mona Lisa in the famous LHOOQ. Man Ray photographed his partner, Kiki de Montparnasse, from behind in a pose that resembles the “Baigneuse de Valpinçon”, a painting at the Louvre by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.


On the woman’s back there are two shapes in the form of an F applied with a stencil which reference the shape of a violin. And like his surrealist friends he gave the piece a title that is a play on words: “Le violon d’Ingres” is an allusion to the painter’s hobby. He then made several prints of this image which serves as a master copy, one of which belongs to the Centre Pompidou.

John Pritzker ? François Pinault?

As for the original single copy, it came from the surrealist collection of Rosalind and Melvin Jacobs, estimated at 7 million dollars, and was sold by Christie’s for 12.4 million dollars on 14 May. It is the most expensive photograph ever sold but it is ultimately much more than a photograph. Rumour has it that John Pritzker, the collector of surrealist artworks from San Francisco, may have been the buyer of the photo, and François Pinault, owner of Christie’s but also a photography collector, may have been the underbidder.


Andy Warhol, Shot sage blue Marilyn. 1964

ANDY WARHOL, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn

This season the owner of the multinational Gagosian gallery has received a fair amount of press. Firstly because Larry Gagosian has bought, we imagine on behalf of one of his clients, a legendary painting by Andy Warhol from 1964 which belonged to the Zurich dealer Thomas Ammann, for 195 million dollars (see the report on the subject). We note that the estimate announced was 200 million dollars. Even though the result is utterly spectacular given that the last record for Warhol was in 2013 for 105 million dollars, the auction houses no longer have the latitude to push up prices in such an exaggerated way.

Anna Weyant and Gagosian

Larry Gagosian has also been talked about in relation to the 27-year-old artist Anna Weyant who the gallery has been representing for a short while, and who the website Artnet also revealed to be his girlfriend. The Canadian painter’s hyperrealist style is in the service of a commentary on the trials and tribulations facing modern young women. “Summertime” painted in 2020, which features a young woman who seems overwhelmed to the point of being slumped on a table, was sold at auction for 1.5 million dollars at Christie’s.

Amy Cappellazzo

“The art market loves youth,” observes Amy Cappellazzo, the former head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s who is now an advisor to collectors. “Currently the price to pay for young artists is very high. But we also know that in each decade we only remember 10 or 20 artists,” she informs us.

922 million dollars for the Macklowe collection

On 16 May Sotheby’s sold the second part of the collection belonging to the New York real estate magnate Harry Macklowe and his ex-wife Linda. I interviewed Harry Macklowe in November 2021.

Their divorce made headlines (see the report on the subject and the results of the sale in November). The sale of their collection has brought in a total of 922 million dollars in 65 lots handpicked from the time of their common acquisitions.

Gerhard Richter

Among the remarkable works there was a seascape by the great contemporary classic of German painting, Gerhard Richter (born in 1932), auctioned for 30.2 million dollars, which is the sixth-highest price for a Richter work at auction. In 2019 the Guggenheim Bilbao dedicated an exhibition to his seascapes (see the report here) and in 2021 the Kunsthaus in Zurich staged a major show of his landscapes (See the report here).

Grégoire Billault

“100% of the 30 lots sold, 30 countries that took part in the auctions. In total the Macklowe collection, which is exemplary, obtained the highest sum ever attained for a private collection. It is a great success,” concludes the head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, Grégoire Billault.

Picasso 1932. Femme nue couchée

In 2018 the Picasso Museum in Paris and the Tate Gallery in London dedicated an exhibition to the extraordinary year of the Malaga master’s output: 1932 (See the report about the exhibition “Picasso 1932” here). This was when he expressed the quintessence of the eroticism of his relationship with his young mistress, Marie Thérèse Walter. It was also the year that one of his retrospectives was staged at a museum, the Kunsthaus in Zurich, for the first time.

A painting of a sculpture

On 17 May Sotheby’s sold a painting from 1932 by Picasso, “Femme nue couchée”, exhibited in Paris in London, which was sold according to the lowest estimate for 67.5 million dollars. It seems to have belonged to Steve Cohen, the New York hedge fund manager and major collector. The relatively conceptual work depicts a painted sculpture.

Thomas Seydoux

“In this way it is more difficult to read than the other portraits of Marie-Thérèse Walter,” explains the private dealer based in Paris, Thomas Seydoux, who adds that “1932 is the year that is most desired by the market for Picasso”. Steve Cohen is still the owner of another Picasso from 1932, a legendary painting entitled “Le Rêve” which he bought in 2013 apparently for 150 million dollars from the Las Vegas collector Steve Wynn.

Ernie Barnes The Sugar Shack. 1976

One of the biggest surprises of this season has been the sale for 15.3 million dollars of a painting by Ernie Barnes (1938-2009) dating from 1976, which is 76 times greater than its initial estimate from Christie’s in its sale of 20th-century art.

Sense of jubilation

Barnes, who was first a professional American football player, painted scenes from daily life in the African-American community which are always animated by movement, such as the record price for “The Sugar Shack”, expressing a powerful sense of jubilation. The painting is a symbol of black American popular culture. It not only made the cover of an album by the superstar musician Marvin Gaye, “I Love You”, but it also appeared in the credits at the end of an American series from the 1970s, “Good Times”.

It was acquired by an American energy trader, Bill Perkins, who declared to the New York Times following the sale, “For certain segments of America, it’s more famous than the ‘Mona Lisa’.” Buoyed by this result, the following day another canvas by Barnes was auctioned for 2.3 million dollars. In 2021 the record price for the painter went up again, only by 550,000 dollars.

The market is driven by a strong demand for African-American artists, who have been overlooked for far too long.

Degas, Petite danseuse de 14 ans (cast in 1927)

It was only after the death of Degas (1834-1917) that his sculpture which has become the most famous, “Petite danseuse de 14 ans”, was cast. Its modernity derives, among other things, from the mixing of mediums: bronze for the body then veil for the tutu and a real ribbon in her hair.

Giovanna Bertazzoni

It was part of the famous collection belonging to the American Ann H. Bass who had placed it, as Giovanna Bertazzoni at Christie’s explains, in the entrance to her very elegant New York apartment. Christie’s has not made the bronze travel but has presented a holographic life-size version in different places around the world. Since 1988 a veritable troupe of these Degas works have been presented at auction, no less than nine copies, which always sell for between 10 and 20 million dollars. In 2003 François Pinault, owner of Christie’s, also sold his version for 10.3 million dollars. This time the dancer in the tutu was sold for 41.6 million dollars.

Monet and Caillebotte

In the impressionist category Monet is the leader of this season with, according to Thomas Seydoux, 10 paintings sold for over 266 million (before taxes).  Last November the impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte was the superstar  with a canvas sold for 53 million dollars by the Getty in Los Angeles (estimate: 6 million dollars) but this season another one  wasn’t sold at Sotheby’s, a “Vue de jardin”, estimated at 2.5 million dollars.

Potential buyers make a big distinction between the masterpieces and the paintings that are merely pleasant.

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