The price is right?

Christies.pngSothebys.pngAs part of the art world’s chattering class, we hold our breath in anticipation of contemporary art auctions only long enough to weigh in on their outcomes. Our stake in whether the sales fall short, meet, or exceed estimates runs I’d say on average to about 400 words. Well I suggest we spice things up a bit with a little contest.

While we claim to know the value of contemporary art better than most, let’s see if we really know the market for it. Below are six works on sale this week; three from Sotheby’s and three from Christie’s, and each from one of the houses’ three sessions (evening, morning and afternoon). The works are accompanied by their estimates. AWS will award two prizes: The first—bragging rights and marquee billing as AWS’s own Carnac the Magnificent (a Johnny Carson reference for those of you scratching your heads)—will go to whoever comes closest in their prediction of the final hammer price for each separate lot listed below. The second—more bragging rights and marquee billing as AWS’s Market Guru (a.k.a. Money Honey)—will go to whoever comes closest to the combined hammer price for all six works. All entries must be submitted by 7pm (EST), May 13th, 2008. Good luck.

(For those of you who are not registered commenters, send your entries to “mail – at –”.) To see the 6 works, click:

lawler.jpgLouise Lawler
Untitled (1988)
Ed. 4/5
Est.: $25,000 – $35,000






peyton.jpgElizabeth Peyton
Kurt Cobain (1995)
Est.: $700,000 – $1,000,000







guangyi.jpgWang Guangyi
Great Criticism Series: NASDAQ (2005)
Est.: $30,000 – $40,000





bechtle.jpgRobert Bechtle
Zenith (1968)
Est.: $100,000 – $150,000






judd.jpgDonald Judd
Untitled (1964)
Est.: $5,000,000 – $7,000,000







martin.jpgAgnes Martin
Untitled (1961)
Est.: $600,000 – $800,000

24 thoughts on “The price is right?”

  1. OK. For the sake of bragging rights and marquee billing, since “free lifetime subscription” to AWS already comes with the monthly broadband bill.

    Lawler: 30,000
    Peyton: 1,200,000
    Guangyi: 75,000
    Bechtle: 100,000
    Judd: 8,600,000
    Martin: 1,100,000

  2. From Sara Jo Romero:-

    It has come to my attention that surreptitious anonymous voting can be a train out of control.

    That said, I’d like to Get My Lotto On and vote for the auction candidates.

    My votes:

    Louise Lawler: 20,000 (bought in)
    E. Peyton: 750,000.
    Wang Guangyi: 15,000 (bought in)

    Bechtle: $112,000.

    Judd: $ 3.5 million. Not a great one, but a Judd nonetheless.

    A. Martin. Not sure what size it is, but will probaby go for $ 650,000.

    I think it is a time for cautious fanta/realism. Or else a party with a big screen so we can tally with some crudite!

  3. Words for Catherine:

    Lawler: 30,000 Not an especially good Lawler, but also not a particularly high price. Looks like a detail from Warhol’s S&H Green Stamps silkscreen of 1962, photographed somewhere in the racks of a collection — but which collection? With a show currently up at Metro and the gallery possibly working for the piece, it should make its lower estimate.

    Peyton: 1,200,000 There’s still a buzz on Peyton. A show of recent work currently up at G. Brown seems well received. This painting, from her very first exhibition, set her style for portraiture of waif-like creative types and her vaunted spiritual connection to same. It should sell above its high estimate.

    Guangyi: 75,000 I’d be happier dealing with any number of Yue Minjuns for sale at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s. But the artworld’s China syndrome should boost the price of this small “conceptual” work. It could go even higher.

    Bechtle: 100,000 His foreboding, sun drenched streetscapes are among the anomalous paintings — and photorealist to boot! — at this year’s Whitney Biennial. But this is a smaller work, and of an interior scene. It could be a buy in, but might sell on the lower end of its estimate.

    Judd: 8,600,000 An unusual, early Judd, when he was still experimenting with (what became known as) Minimalism, before his rectangular imperative was fully nailed down. But an historic piece, with great provenance, and in his signature cadmium red. Could easily go higher.

    Martin: 1,100,000 I have always been a big fan of Martin, but am undecided on what price this piece might command. The widely varying figures submitted by my co-contestants seem to bear out this uncertainty. I decided to let my affection for the work dictate a higher figure, but affection is not always the best posture at auctions.

    I note Jonathan has steered clear of lots that have hit the pre-auction news — the Bacon triptychs, Prince Nurses, Warhol (1986) Self Portraits — all of which are being offered for sale at both houses.

  4. Nice going, Steve! The Lawler is pretty much off the rack, affordable and everyone knows what you’ve got. I think a lot of people will want it, but will keep the bidding on the low end.

    I would add that because the Peyton is Kurt Cobain, there might be something of a Marilyn effect.

    The Guangyi is pretty literal, good for someone’s office, and plenty of people are looking for that. It wouldn’t do so well if it said ‘nascar,” for ex. Unlike the Lawler, this one might go a little farther for its cheeky embrace of the new world order.

    I would be a little dismayed to see a Biennial be so powerful that the Bechtle would be receiving any serious attention. But people do seem to like a certain empty blend of the conceptual and artifice. “This is not a tv” is going to make some dupe happy, and that’s just fine.

    I’d go with the very high bids on Judd, it’s already a monument. (Wasn’t it a book cover? I seem to remember having it on my wall at some point.) I’d wonder about its condition, some of these early works are in fact rather shoddy in facture and have not held up so well.

    And the Martin is an odd one, more pictorial and decorative than what most people really head for, so I would say that it is an important part of the story, the one in which she had to leave New York in order to protect what was hers, and not theirs. Someone who likes that story is going to hold onto this one as the numbers are rising.

  5. Thanks for your words Catherine. Now let’s see your numbers.

    Just heard that Robert Rauschenberg died last night at the age of 82: a major loss and sure to be a topic of conversation throughout the art world. Not to be ghoulish, but coming as it does during the contemporary auctions in New York, I wonder how it will effect sales. I don’t see anything at Christie’s tonight, but there are several major Rauschenbergs from the early 60s at Sotheby’s on Wednesday evening: one a silkscreen-based piece, the other a combine.

  6. The Judd graces the spine of James Meyer’s ‘Minimalism’ (the one from Phaidon, not Yale), and as for its condition, it looks great. It does not have the incredibly clean lines of John Ballantine’s plywood boxes, but that just goes to show how central such attention to detail became once Judd went for ever more reduced geometries (and, of course, back to the wall).

  7. Since the first of these items has now been sold I now declare this competition closed! Those entries that came in after the sales started will no longer be posted. Though comments are of course still welcome.

    This Elizabeth Peyton portrait of Kurt Cobain sold for $ 769,000. Which makes Michael Buitrón and and Sara Jo Romero tied for the lead at the moment, if we are not adding buyers’ premiums to the price. Jonathan?

    And since Jonathan started this little game I assume he will check final results from all works and arbitrate?

    Remember the thread is still open. Only the competition is closed.

  8. A follow-up from Michael Buitrón:-

    Since I didn’t post words with my numbers, my thoughts may be taken as Monday-morning quarterbacking.

    The estimate on the Judd was close to double the cost of everything else combined; it seemed that a good guess on Untitled (1964) would win bragging rights as art market guru (more than anything else). Looking at the picture, all I could think was how much floor space it would consume without the benefit of screaming Judd to the world. There were other, more iconic boxes in the same auction (and up for sale the next day) that had the advantage of fitting over the sofa in a Manhattan co-op.

    My sense is that were dealing with several art markets out there, and for the top tier, there’s still plenty of money to spread around. We suffered through a fairly lackluster American stock market this decade, which encouraged the über-rich divert their cash to things like real estate, expensive art, and overseas stock markets. As long as Sotheby’s keeps from offering sub-prime loans to the middle class so they can buy Warhols, the high-end art market should trundle along fairly well. My guess is that if there’s a bubble to be had, it’s much much further down the food chain. (But that’s fodder for a different thread).

  9. The Final Tally:

    (Note: Prices below are the “hammer” and do not include buyers’ premiums.)

    Lawler: $40,000
    Peyton: $650,000
    Guangyi: $75,000
    Bechtle: $170,000
    Judd: $4,000,000
    Martin: $700,000


    The AWS Carnac the Magnificent Award goes to:

    It’s a four way tie! With each of the following coming closest on two lots each:

    Ed Winkleman (Lawler, Bechtle)
    Ossian Ward (Bechtle, Martin)
    Michael Buitron (Peyton, Judd)
    Sara Jo Romero (Peyton, Martin)

    And the AWS Market Guru (a.k.a. Money Honey) is…

    Jorg Grimm

    Jorg’s total of $6,097,000 was only $462,000 off from the hammer total of $5,635,000. Sara Jo was a close runner up with a total of $5,012,000, only $623,000 off the hammer total.

    Congratulations all! Good fun. Now start priming for the Fall.

  10. While I was embarrassingly high in most of my predictions, I totally nailed one. It was just an informed accident, but still I would like to save face by claiming the “Wang Award”.

    All hail the Magnificent Carnacs and the Market Gurus!

  11. My apologies to Steven, who should also be crowned with a “Carnac.” I did state that that prize was for each individual lot, and he did “nail” the Guangyi, right on the money (his only competition in this respect comes from Ed, who also got the Lawler exactly right).

    So congratulations due to Steven as well.

  12. It’s probably a good thing that I don’ have the money to go to the auctions… It was interesting how modest this turned out. And the results were very positive for Guangyi and Bechtle. Good news for the arts acually. I’m already looking forward to the next autcions to see if Jorg Grimm can keep his position.

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