Auction  November 3, 2023  Paul Laster

9 Picks from New York’s Major Fall Auctions

Courtesy of Christie's

Nicolas Party, Still Life, 2015

The New York spring and fall sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips are arguably the most important secondary market art sales in America. It’s the time when the best, most highly coveted, and also the most expensive artworks are put up for auction with the hope that the sales will break new records for the artists and the works will find optimal new owners.

Kicking off the two-week run of fall sales is Christie’s 21st Century Evening Sale, on November 7, with 43 outstanding contemporary lots, including notable paintings and sculptures by Cy Twombly, Brice Marden and Jeff Koons. The works that we would like to add to our collection, however, are Nicolas Party’s superb Still Life (2015) painting and John Currin’s cheeky canvas, Nice 'n Easy (1999). Estimated to sell between $3.8 million and $4.5 million, Party’s large-scale painting of stylized fruits and vegetables was rendered in soft pastel on linen. A vibrant display of overlapping forms, it’s a prime example of the artist’s embrace of the still-life genre and the medium of pastel, a subject matter and a method of working that he’s made very much his own.

Courtesy of Christie's

John Currin, Nice 'n Easy, 1999.

Visually as powerful, Currin’s painting of a pair of female nudes, casually engaged in conversation, utilizes Old Master techniques to capture warm flesh tones on the bodies of his wife and muse—fellow artist Rachel Feinstein—and a friend, who playfully touches her belly while chatting. Considering that similar paintings in this series have been collected by Tate Britain, SFMOMA and the Hirshhorn Museum, the estimated value of $7-10 million seems like a bargain.

Next up at the auction house is Christie’s 20th Century Evening Sale, which features 65 outstanding modernist works, along with a few contemporary pieces, on November 9. Highlights include such modern masterpieces as René Magritte’s painting, L’empire des lumières (1949), (this canvas is the first of 17 versions of the motif, and it once belonged to Nelson Rockefeller) estimated at $25-35 million and a Pablo Picasso abstract portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, from 1934. Picasso biographer John Richardson proclaimed this period to be the artist’s “most innovative period since Cubism." It is also estimated at $25-35 million. 

As fine as those artworks are, our favorite lots in the sale are Andy Warhol’s Sixteen Jackies, 1964, estimated at $25-35 million, and Frida Kahlo’s Portrait of Cristina, My Sister, 1928, estimated at $8-12 million. Originally exhibited at Leo Castelli Gallery and once part of the Saatchi Collection, Sixteen Jackies, a seminal work from Warhol’s Death and Disaster series, captures Jackie Kennedy’s public mourning after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, in black-and-white, which was the opposite of the appropriated Life magazine image used for the mediated artwork.

Frida Kahlo’s Portrait of Cristina, My Sister, 1928.
Courtesy of Christie's

Frida Kahlo, Portrait of Cristina, My Sister, 1928.

Andy Warhol, Sixteen Jackies, 1964. Silkscreen ink on linen, in sixteen parts, 80 x 64 in. / 203.2 x 162.6 cm. Courtesy Christie’s.
Courtesy Christie’s.

Andy Warhol, Sixteen Jackies, 1964. Silkscreen ink on linen, in sixteen parts, 80 x 64 in. / 203.2 x 162.6 cm.
 

Nicolas Party, Still Life, 2015. Soft pastel on linen, 59 x 74 ¾ in. / 150 x 190 cm. Courtesy Christie’s.
Courtesy Christie’s.

Nicolas Party, Still Life, 2015. Soft pastel on linen, 59 x 74 ¾ in. / 150 x 190 cm. 

 John Currin, Nice 'n Easy, 1999. Oil on canvas, 44 x 34 in. / 111.8 x 86.4 cm. Courtesy Christie’s
Courtesy Christie’s

 John Currin, Nice 'n Easy, 1999. Oil on canvas, 44 x 34 in. / 111.8 x 86.4 cm. 

Georg Baselitz, Ein Roter, 1966. Oil on canvas, 63 3/4 x 51 1/8 in. / 162 x 130 cm. Courtesy Phillips.
Courtesy Phillips

Georg Baselitz, Ein Roter, 1966. Oil on canvas, 63 3/4 x 51 1/8 in. / 162 x 130 cm. 

Ed Ruscha, Securing the Last Letter (Boss), 1964 Oil on canvas, 59 x 55 1/8 in. / 149.9 x 140 cm. Courtesy Sotheby's.
Courtesy Sotheby's

Ed Ruscha, Securing the Last Letter (Boss), 1964 Oil on canvas, 59 x 55 1/8 in. / 149.9 x 140 cm. 

Claude Monet, Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, temps couvert, 1891. Oil on canvas. 36 by 32 ⅛ in. 91.5 by 81.5 cm. Courtesy Sotheby's.
Courtesy Sotheby's.

Claude Monet, Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, temps couvert, 1891. Oil on canvas. 36 by 32 ⅛ in. 91.5 by 81.5 cm. 
 

Joan Mitchell, Sunflowers, 1990-91. Oil on canvas, in two parts, 110 ¼ x 157 ½ in. / 280 x 400 cm. Courtesy Sotheby's
Courtesy Sotheby's

Joan Mitchell, Sunflowers, 1990-91. Oil on canvas, in two parts, 110 ¼ x 157 ½ in. / 280 x 400 cm. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two), 1982. Acrylic and oilstick on canvas, 96 x61 ½ in. / 243.8 x 156.2 cm. Courtesy Sotheby's.
Courtesy Sotheby's.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two), 1982. Acrylic and oilstick on canvas, 96 x61 ½ in. / 243.8 x 156.2 cm. 

Coming from the collection of the late Jerry Moss, co-founder of A&M Records, Kahlo’s famous portrait of her younger sister is one of a series of early paintings by the celebrated Mexican artist. Painted from a photograph by Kahlo’s father, it mixes a classic Cinquecento style with European modernism—portraying Cristina with the Tree of Knowledge as a modern-day Eve, a prophecy that unfortunately came true when she gave into temptation and had an affair with Frida’s husband, Diego Rivera.

Sotheby’s initial sale, The Emily Fisher Landau Collection: An Era Defined, Evening Auction, features 31 lots and takes place on November 8. One of the greatest art patrons of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, Landau was a trustee at the Whitney Museum and had her own public art space from 1991 to 2017 in Long Island City, where she exhibited selections from her collection. There are exceptional artworks in the Evening Auction, including major paintings by Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko and Jasper Johns, but our pick is Ed Ruscha’s Securing the Last Letter (Boss) (1964). First exhibited at the Ferus Gallery in 1964, the large-scale oil on canvas with the word BOSS painted in orange on a dark blue background. By pinching the last S with an industrial C-clamp, Ruscha gave the painting a twist, which made it part Pop Art and equally derived from Conceptualism. With an Ed Ruscha retrospective currently on view at New York’s Museum of Modern Art watch for the painting to top its $35-45 million estimate.

Courtesy of Sotheby's

Ed Ruscha, Securing the Last Letter (Boss), 1964.

Sotheby’s Modern Evening Auction, taking place November 13, features 41 modernist lots, including significant paintings and sculptures by Balthus, Alexander Calder, Paul Cézanne and Joan Miró, but it’s Claude Monet’s Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, temps couvert (1891) that caught our eye. When translated from French its title tells the whole story: Poplars on the banks of the Epte, overcast weather. Painted en plein air two kilometers from his house in Giverny, in the nearby village of Limetz, it’s one of the best of the twenty-four canvases capturing the dramatic river landscape that the Impressionist artist made that year, with at least nine others from the series in the collections of major museums worldwide. Consigned by a Japanese collector, who acquired the painting in 1990, it’s estimated to sell for $30-40 million, but since Monet’s auction record is $110.7 million, we expect it could top the high estimate.

We’ve picked two standout paintings—Joan Mitchell’s exhilarating Sunflowers (1990-91) and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s riveting Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two), 1982—from Sotheby's Contemporary Evening Auction, which features 46 lots and takes place November 15. Sunflowers, estimated at $20-30 million, is consigned from the collection of John Cheim, a New York gallerist with a great eye. A director at Robert Miller Gallery for twenty years before co-founding Cheim & Read in 1997, his gallery represented the work of Louise Bourgeois, Lynda Benglis, Alice Neel and Jenny Holzer, among others, and important works by all of these remarkable artists are featured in the sale.

Courtesy of Sotheby's

Joan Mitchell, Sunflowers, 1990-91. Oil on canvas, in two parts, 110 ¼ x 157 ½ in. / 280 x 400 cm. 

Basquiat’s magnificent self-portrait, which comes from another important private collection, was first shown at Larry Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles in 1983, shortly after it was painted. Made in Los Angeles, it debuted in his first West Coast exhibitions at the gallery. The raw image that he painted of himself reflected how he thought other people saw him—as a bad guy—and how he envisioned himself—as a composite: someone much more complex. The painting was initially purchased from Gagosian by revered Belgian collector Stéphane Janssen—an early champion of Basquiat. But when he sold it in 1999, he probably never imagined that it would someday be worth the current estimate, $40-60 million, even though it may sell for more.

Finally, Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Part II, taking place November 14, features 30 high-quality lots, including spectacular paintings by George Condo, Gerhard Richter and Nicolas de Staël, a post-war French abstractionist who is the subject of a current retrospective at the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris. Our pick from the sale, however, is Georg Baselitz’s painting Ein Roter (1966), a masterpiece from his Hero series (1965-1966) that’s estimated at $6-8M. A barefoot figure in a barren landscape, the downtrodden soldier has reached the top of the hill but he has no reason to celebrate, as nothing has really been won. Rendered in an expressive Mannerist style, the paintings in this series preceded his canvases with inverted figures, which he began in 1969, but in our eyes, these are equally as important to his development as one of the most significant artists of the past 60 years. 

About the Author

Paul Laster

Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, advisor, artist, and lecturer. New York Desk Editor for ArtAsiaPacific, Laster is also a Contributing Editor at Raw Vision and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and a contributing writer for Art & Object, OculaGalerie, ArtsySculptureTime Out New YorkConceptual Fine Arts, and Two Coats of Paint. Formerly the Founding Editor of Artkrush, he began The Daily Beast’s art section and was Art Editor at Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine. Laster has also been the Curatorial Advisor for Intersect Art & Design and an Adjunct Curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.

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