Hot Lots: 7 Tantalizingly Undervalued Artworks in New York’s Fall Auctions, According to the Experts

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We spoke to the experts at Artnet Auctions to identify big opportunities in the postwar and contemporary sales.

Auctioneer Oliver Barker at Sotheby's contemporary evening sale in May 2018. Courtesy of Sotheby's.
Auctioneer Oliver Barker at Sotheby's contemporary evening sale in May 2018. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

With the Big Three auction houses offering another $1 billion worth of art in their New York sales this week, it can be overwhelming to sort through the thousands of lots to find a few hidden gems. That’s why the Artnet News team decided to reach across the aisle for the in-house expertise of Artnet’s Auction specialists this season.

Below are seven postwar and contemporary works on sale at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips that are poised to be excellent value acquisitions based on their presale estimate ranges. Just be forewarned: every one of them also has enough underlying merit and potential market sizzle to catch fire in a bidding war.

Jonathan Lyndon Chase

rose petals on bed (2018)

Jonathan Lyndon Chase, <i>rose petals on bed</i> (2018). Courtesy of Phillips.
Jonathan Lyndon Chase, rose petals on bed (2018). Courtesy of Phillips.

Where It’s Offered: Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Day Sale, Afternoon Session

When: Wednesday, November 13

Estimate: $15,000 to $20,000

Why It’s Hot: Private buyers and public collections alike have been burning rubber in pursuit of works by this ascendant young artist at gallery exhibitions and art fairs around the world. Following sold-out shows at Company Gallery in New York and Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles, three institutions, led by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami, snagged Lyndon Chase paintings at this year’s Armory Show for an average of $20,000 each, according to sources familiar with the transactions. Mega-collectors Beth Rudin Dewoody and Susan and Michael Hort also have the artist’s work in their holdings. rose petals on bed will be the first opportunity for those left in the primary-market dust to stake a claim at auction.

Expert Take: “Lyndon Chase makes his entry into the secondary market… strategically placed [in this sale] near works by the hottest artists of the moment, including Loie Hollowell, Nicolas Party, and Julie Curtiss, to name a few,” says Bibi Zavieh, senior specialist in contemporary and Middle Eastern art. “His auction fate as one of the next rising stars seems almost too obvious.”

Sam Gilliam

A Series 4 (2015)

Sam Gilliam, <i>A Series 4</i> (2015). Courtesy of Phillips.
Sam Gilliam, A Series 4 (2015). Courtesy of Phillips.

Where It’s Offered: Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Day Sale, Morning Session

When: Wednesday, November 13

Estimate: $25,000 to $35,000

Why It’s Hot: Although few artists have seen their auction temperature rise faster or higher than Sam Gilliam in the past few years, that doesn’t mean every work is overheated. Six of the artist’s drawings have brought $50,000 or more under the hammer since March 2018, including a record $93,750 paid at Phillips this May for an example measuring half the size of this ebulliently colored, 46-inch-by-28-inch tour de force. If bidding keeps A Series 4 anywhere near its estimate range, the work will qualify as a steal.

Expert Take: “With Christie’s offering a canvas for $1.2 million to $1.8 million in its postwar and contemporary morning session, Phillips is providing an avenue to acquire a stunning Gilliam work on paper that stands up to larger canvases at a comparatively affordable price,” says Lauren Berkaw, junior specialist in contemporary art.

Robert Graham

Source Figure (1990–91)

Robert Graham, <i>Source Figure</i> (1990–91). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Robert Graham, Source Figure (1990–91). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Where It’s Offered: Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction

When: Friday, November 15

Estimate: $30,000 to $40,000

Why It’s Hot: Among aficionados of the late California sculptor Robert Graham, Source Code is considered a masterpiece. Graham crafts one of his signature lifelike nudes atop an intricate, scalloped column seemingly being defended by a group of almost mythically large crabs. Two earlier editions of the work have sold above this estimate range in recent years, including one for over $156,000 at Sotheby’s New York in 2015. That finish ranks as the fourth-highest ever at auction for the artist.

Expert Take: According to Henri Neuendorf, a postwar and contemporary art specialist, “[Graham] is already severely undervalued and under-appreciated by the market, and Sotheby’s is offering collectors the opportunity to snatch up one of his best-ever works at a pittance.”

Bernard Frize

Suypla (2013)

Bernard Frize, <i>Suypla</i> (2015). Courtesy of Phillips.
Bernard Frize, Suypla (2015). Courtesy of Phillips.

Where It’s Offered: Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Day Sale, Afternoon Session

When: Wednesday, November 13

Estimate: $30,000 to $50,000

Why It’s Hot: The auction record for the rules-based abstractionist Bernard Frize was set way back in 2012, when the Frenchman’s Thouan (2002) sold for nearly €127,000 EUR (almost $164,000). Yet his works have consistently outperformed expectations, with all but six of the 27 lots consigned to auction since January 2018 exceeding their high estimates—several by between 150 and 300 percent. Frize also boasts gallery representation by international powerhouses Perrotin and Simon Lee, and his long career was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou earlier this year.

Expert Take: “At 51-inches square, Supyla is estimated at… a small fraction of the retail price, even including the buyer’s premium,” says Jason Rulnick, a senior specialist in contemporary art. Later paintings of about the same size were offered for €74,000 (about $81,500) by his dealers at Art Basel 2018.

Barbara Kruger

Untitled (Can I help you? Can I interest you in something red? Cash or charge?) (1987)

Barbara Kruger, <i>Untitled (Can I help you? Can I interest you in something red? Cash or charge?)</i> (1987). Courtesy of Phillips.
Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Can I help you? Can I interest you in something red? Cash or charge?) (1987). Courtesy of Phillips.

Where It’s Offered: Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Day Sale, Afternoon Session

When: Wednesday, November 13

Estimate: $70,000 to $100,000

Why It’s Hot: Featured in Kruger’s 1999-to-2000 survey at LACMA and the Whitney, this unique work sees Barbara Kruger aiming her signature subversive humor and adversarial approach at commerce in general and the art establishment in particular. The three parenthetical questions—one of which becomes cheekily self-referential courtesy of the surrounding red wooden box—emerge in succession as viewers move around the lenticular photograph. The piece comes to auction for the first time with a sterling provenance, consigned by the private collector who acquired it on the primary market from Mary Boone Gallery three decades ago.

Expert Take: “Much like Ed Ruscha, Kruger has a wonderful ability to reconstitute language,” says Conner Williams, Artnet’s head of prints and multiples. “She’s at her best here, [teasing out] the casual sexism so often embedded in ambiguity.”

KAWS

Untitled (2002)

KAWS, <i>Untitled</i> (2002). Courtesy of Phillips.
KAWS, Untitled (2002). Courtesy of Phillips.

Where It’s Offered: Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Day Sale, Afternoon Session

When: Wednesday, November 13

Estimate: $70,000 to $100,000

Why It’s Hot: If you’re intent on riding the KAWS wave this November, no work in the New York sales cycle deserves your surfboard more than this early pastel drawing. It hails from a series of works executed on site in just two days for a two-person exhibition at Made Gallery in Vancouver. The white-chalk-on-black-paper combination forges an especially powerful visual connection to the tags of the artist’s great forebear, Keith Haring—and stands as a rarity in comparison to the richly colored canvases that most frequently appear at auction.

Expert Take: “KAWS’s fan base at the time described these works as being perfectly drawn with no erasures, presaging the art market’s overwhelmingly supportive response to his skill and alacrity,” Williams says.

John Baldessari

Two Bleeding Hearts Nosebleed (Red and Green) (1986)

John Baldessari, <i>Two Bleeding Hearts Nosebleed (Red and Green)</i> (1986). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.
John Baldessari, Two Bleeding Hearts Nosebleed (Red and Green) (1986). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

Where It’s Offered: Christie’s Postwar and Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

When: Thursday, November 14

Estimate: $120,000 to $180,000

Why It’s HotTwo Bleeding Hearts Nosebleed (Red and Green) lands a trifecta of sorts in the context of John Baldessari’s career. Made in 1986, when the artist was undeniably in his prime, the work also arrives relatively early in his decades-long obsession with noses, which began with God Nose (1965), one of the few early works to survive the conscious conflagration of his Cremation Project in 1970. Finally, the painting boasts a sterling provenance that includes Sprüth Magers, David Zwirner, Margo Leavin Gallery, and even star-turned-collector Diane Keaton.

Expert Take: According to Rulnick, “Baldessari works from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s have routinely traded over $200,000 at auction since 2014, including four that topped $400,000 in the past two years.” And with only about two such works being offered per year on average over that time, this one could pop.

Click here to see the current—and far more affordable—sales on Artnet Auctions.

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