Andy Warhol’s Muhammad Ali and other heavyweights help Christie’s make $420m in 20th-century sale in New York

Only five of the 59 lots went unsold in the auction last night

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Andy Warhol, Muhammad Ali (1977) sold for $18.1m © Christie's Images Ltd. 2021

Andy Warhol, Muhammad Ali (1977) sold for $18.1m © Christie's Images Ltd. 2021

Following on the high heels of the white glove Cox Collection, Christie’s marathon-like 20th-century evening sale thundered to $420m.

The tally, including fees, landed towards the high side of pre-sale expectations of $324.3m-$471m. (Estimates do not include the buyer’s premium). The hammer total was $362m.

It fell shy of last May’s inaugural 20th-century sale that made $481.1m and was led by Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) that fetched $103.4 million.

Last night, five of the 59 lots offered went unsold for a trim buy-in rate by lot of 8%. A single artist record was set (for Lee Bontecou). Financial guarantees, both third-party and Christie’s alone were set in advance for 18 of the 59 works offered.

Alice Neel, Light (1980) © Christie’s Images Ltd.

The sale started on a high note with Alice Neel’s shadowed still life, Light from 1980 that made $1.9m ($2.3m with fees, est. $900,000-$1.2m) and carried on with David Hockney’s Yorkshire landscape, Woldgate Tree, May from 2006 that sold for $5.2m ($6.3m with fees, est. $3m-$5m).

Price points quickly clicked higher with Gerhard Richter’s large-scaled and squeegee stroked Abstraktes Bild from 1988 that brought $25m ($27m with fees, est. $25m-$35m). It came backed by a third-party guarantee.

In the somewhat baffling mix-and-match roster of artists and periods that meandered throughout the sale, Lee Bontecou’s menacing wall relief in welded steel, canvas, wire, fabric and velvet (Untitled, 1959-60), hit a record $7.7m ($9m with fees, est. $2m-$4m) while Claude Monet’s becalmed seascape, La Méditerranée from 1888 realised $5.9m ($7.1m with fees, est. $4m-$6m).

Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1982) © Christie’s Images Limited 2021

The mightily hyped cover lot consigned by the art mogul Peter Brant, Andy Warhol’s photo-realist portrait of his young friend and painting collaborator Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1982, featuring the artist in top knot coiffure and tie and jacket, flew to $34.7m ($40m with fees, est. on request in the region of $20m).

Widely referred to as one of Warhol’s infamous and still pungent “piss paintings”, the catalogue entry gently describes the work as metallic pigment, acrylic, silkscreen ink and urine on canvas.

Brant acquired the 40in by 40in work privately in 2002 from the Mugrabi Collection that harbours the largest group of Warhols anywhere.

It was recently featured in the travelling retrospective organised by New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again in 2018-20 and came to market backed by a third-party guarantee.

Another Warhol, featuring a pugnacious Muhammad Ali from 1977 was a knockout at $15.5m ($18.1m with fess, est. $4.5m-$6.5m).

Pablo Picasso, Homme à la pipe II (1968) sold for $15.4m © Christie’s Images Limited 2021

The back-and-forth choreography continued with Pablo Picasso’s seated ruffian, Mousquetaire à la pipe II from 1968, featuring the long tressed character seated and puffing away on his long-stemmed pipe. It sold for $30m ($34.7m with fees, est. on request in the region of $30m).

A second similarly scaled mousquetaire, Homme a la pipe also from 1968 went for $13.5m ($15.4m with fees, est. $15m-$20m). It last sold at Christie’s London in June 1999 for £480,000 hammer(!).

A third Picasso entry (and there are more), Femme accroupie en costume turc II (Jacqueline) from 1955 and evocative of Delacroix’s Algerian women, went for $22m ($25.5m with fees, est. $20m-$30m).

Back on American soil, at least by nationality, Cy Twombly’s lusciously marked, large-scale Untitled from 1961, executed in oil, wax crayon, graphite and coloured pencil on canvas sold for $30m ($32m with fees, est. on request in the region of $30m), while Joan Mitchell’s evocatively titled Butterfly Beach, a triptych in oil on canvas from 1971 fluttered to $5.2m ($6.3m with fees). Both came to market backed by third-party guarantees.

In the rarified Pop Art precinct, Ed Ruscha’s psychedelic edged, liquid-like text painting, Ripe (1967), populated by tiny depictions of pomegranate seeds across the four letters made $18m ($20m with fees, est. $18m-$22m).

Combined with the Cox sale, Christie’s churned out a rather remarkable $751.9m evening.

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