Two back-to-back modern art sales at Sotheby’s brought in $391.2 million on Monday evening.
The star of the show was certainly Piet Mondrian, whose work Composition No. II (1930) sold for $48 million – $51 million including fees. This is a new record for the artist, breaking the previous $50.6 million record set by Composition No. III, With Red, Blue, Yellow and Black (1929) in 2015. Collage (1950) by Willem de Kooning was sold at $29 million ($33.6 million, including fees).
The Sotheby’s sales also featured many private collections up for auction. The most significant belonged to New York attorney David Solinger, who also served as the president of the Whitney Museum until his death. The collection collectively brought in $137.9 million. The second sale most prominently featured the collection of media mogul William Paley. The collection brought in $47 million (against a $37 million pre-sale estimate). The revenues would be put towards the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
The first sale at Sotheby’s, which entirely featured Solinger’s works, saw 23 lots going up the auction block. It ended up as a white glove sale – all works were sold – with many getting prices higher than their pre-sale estimates. While collecting more revenues, the second sale didn’t prove to be as successful. Of the 44 lots presented, only 36 ended up selling. Even then, many works fetched lower prices than their pre-sale estimate.
The collective revenues were certainly higher than the pre-sale estimate of $318 million. However, Sotheby’s must have been expecting a lot better performance given the recent Christie’s auction. The auction of the late Paul Allen’s collection at Christie’s brought in a record-breaking $1.5 billion – indicating that the art market is recession-proof. However, Sotheby’s sales suggest otherwise.