Auction Blotter: Julie Curtiss Shocks, Ed Ruscha Sizzles, and KAWS Keeps On Keeping On in the New York Day Sales

Art Daily
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Installation view of Phillips "New Now" Auction exhibition. Courtesy of Phillips.
Installation view of Phillips “New Now” Auction exhibition. Courtesy of Phillips.

The late-September day sales in New York might not get the high-wattage attention of the splashy evening sales, but this is where auction stars of the future are made. Here’s a rundown of the notable results at Phillips, Christie’s, and Sotheby’s this week. (As usual, all prices include the buyer’s premium unless otherwise noted.)

Paper Money

Julie Curtiss, Fruit Bowl on Fire (2015). Courtesy of Phillips.
Julie Curtiss, Fruit Bowl on Fire (2015). Courtesy of Phillips.

At the New Now sale at Phillips, a slew of artists beat their records in the category of works on paper. Batting leadoff was a gouache on paper by Julie Curtiss, the young French artist whose work has been highly sought-after on the secondary market since last May, when frenzied bidding at Phillips pushed a painting of hers light years past its $6,000 high estimate. Shockingly, it hit a final price of $106,250. On Tuesday, online bidders got outmatched by a phone bidder on the line with sale head Sam Mansour, hammering at $28,000 (or $35,000 with fees)—easily a record for the artist in that medium. A paper work by Shara Hughes hammered at $22,000 ($27,500 with fees). And two works on paper by Nicolas Party that each had high estimates of $60,000 nearly tripled that, selling for $175,000 apiece.

Auspicious Debut

Leidy Churchman, Big Kali (Goddess of Time and Death) (2014). Courtesy of Phillips.
Leidy Churchman, Big Kali (Goddess of Time and Death) (2014). Courtesy of Phillips.

Paddle-wielders, say hello to Leidy Churchman, who just made his very first appearance at auction, courtesy of the New Now sale. The Phillips team that pulled together the sale may have been hoping that his current show at the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College would spur some interest in the untested artist. And perhaps it helped that the painting was a big, bright depiction of Kali, the Hindu goddess of doom, with her many heads bobbing about. Estimated at $10,000 to $15,000, it ended up going for a premium-inclusive $50,000. (More like the goddess of boom!) Given that number, expect collectors with Churchmans to take notice, so look out for a few paintings sprinkled through the day and afternoon sales in New York this November.

KAWS and Effect?

Martin Wong, <i>Ten Brooklyn Storefronts</i> (1985). Courtesy of Sotheby's.
Martin Wong, Ten Brooklyn Storefronts (1985). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Brian Donnelly, the wizard of KAWS, has a vast and eclectic collection that may surprise those who are used to the artist’s own, um, distinctive output. He favors the loopy paintings of Peter Saul, early overlooked abstractions of Carolee Schneemann, and the photography of David Wojnarowicz, whose market Donnelly has reset twice in the last 18 months. He also collects Martin Wong, an artist who made affectionate renderings of the Lower East Side in the ’80s and ’90s before dying of AIDS in 1999. Could it be a coincidence, then, that days after an article was published about how KAWS loves Wong, a 10-part painting by the late artist obliterated its $80,000 high estimate to sell for $884,000 at Sotheby’s?

And Speaking of…

KAWS, FOUR-FOOT DISSECTED COMPANION (2009). Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
KAWS, FOUR-FOOT DISSECTED COMPANION (2009). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

No, that bubble has not yet burst—all the KAWS in the Phillips sale sold for at least double their respective high estimates. A wooden Pinocchio made in an edition of 100 sold for $118,750, more than four times its high estimate. And during the Post-War to Present sale at Christie’s, a figurine that KAWS designed for the Japanese collectibles company Medicom Toy smashed high estimates to hammer at $75,000, or $93,750 with fees. Again, this was for a toy; toys are playthings for children.

Bad Bets

Jean Dubuffet, Cafetière et petit chaudron avec clef (1965). Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
Jean Dubuffet, Cafetière et petit chaudron avec clef (1965). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

The top lot of the New Now sale, Keith Haring‘s Untitled (Three Dancing Figures), Version A (1989) failed to find a buyer Tuesday when no bids hit the low threshold of $600,000. At Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale, works by Joan Mitchell and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye were priced in the mid-six figures and flopped—surprising, given the fact that their artworks have broken records in recent years as the demand for work by women and black artists has grown to a fever pitch. And at Christie’s Friday, a Jean Dubuffet and a John Chamberlain, both estimated at $350,000 to $450,000, could not find anyone to bid.

Ruscha Rush

Ed Ruscha, Wavy Robot (1975). Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
Ed Ruscha, Wavy Robot (1975). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

On Thursday, Christie’s had a sale called “Thirtyfive Works by Ed Ruscha” where the house sold… 35 works by Ed Ruscha. Imagine a Ruscha work with the text reading “White Glove Sale.” The top lot was Wavy Robot (1975), a gunpowder-on-paper concoction that brought in $1.2 million. And at Sotheby’s on Wednesday, Ruscha’s Please Note (1990)—an acrylic-on-canvas painting—sold for $1.5 million.

Across the Pond

Mickalene Thomas, Naomi Looking Forward (2013). Courtesy Sotheby’s.
Mickalene Thomas, Naomi Looking Forward (2013). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

All this bodes fairly well for next week’s day sales at the auction houses’ headquarters in London, all of which are within walking distance of one another in Mayfair. Phillips is hoping to make a splash with works by budding stars Simone Leigh, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, and Derek Fordjour in the opening three slots. Sotheby’s has work by the young artists Claire Tabouret and Donna Huanca, as well as pricier works by newcomer blue-chippers such as Dana Schutz and Mickalene Thomas. And Christie’s is kicking off its day sale with a painting by, look at that, Julie Curtiss—the first painting of hers to come to auction since the shocking record-breaker last May. With a high estimate at nearly $75,000 and demand peaking, expect ferocious bidding, and perhaps another new record.

All these houses have to do is avoid a Brexit-related art market crash, and all will go well.

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