Christie’s 21st contemporary art evening sale achieves US$103 million with strong Asian presence

On Tuesday night, Christie’s New York pulled off a white-glove, 100%-sold 21st Century Evening Sale. With the emergence of rising art stars and blue-chip artwork from Gerhard Richter, the sale brought in a total of US$103 million. 

Before the sale started, two lots by Basquiat, including his 1982 triptych Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict which was expected to fetch US$30 million and a small wooden artwork, had been withdrawn at the last minute.

Apart from that, what caught attention to the sale was probably Asia's strong presence. The two-hour sale saw fierce bidding from Asia on many lots, leading a number of emerging artists to set new auction records, with their works soaring above the estimate to sell for over a million US dollar. And the auctioneer, Georgina Hilton, even flew all the way from Hong Kong to New York to lead the sale. 

Among the 31 lots to fetch the highest price was, without surprise, Richter’s Abstraktes Bild, which garnered around US$38.2 million.

Georgina Hilton from Christie's Hong Kong leading the evening sale

Lot 13B | Jean-Michel Basquiat | Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict, Triptych, Acrylic, oil, oilstick and hardware on hinged wood construction
Created in 1982
207.3 x 209.2 x 9.2 cm

  • FUN Gallery, New York
  • Galerie Mostini, Paris
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1995

Estimate upon request (expected to fetch US$30 million)

Basquiat has been paraded and hyped heavily at auctions in recent years, with his works selling for a record price almost every season.

However, his highly anticipated wood panel painting, Water-Worshipper, which was marked as a premium lot with a low estimate of HK$62 million (around US$7.9 million) during the recently concluded Sotheby's Hong Kong auction week, failed to find a buyer. Yet another painting executed on wood panel, the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict was withdrawn this time.

With Water-Worshipper being unsold and this triptych withdrawn, people start to wonder: has Basquiat lost its appeal at auctions? Or are his wood-panel paintings simply less popular?  

The answer could perhaps be revealed next week, when another Basquiat's work, Untitled, acrylic and oilstick on canvas, from the collection of Japanese tycoon Yusaku Maezawa, goes under the hammer with an estimate of US$70 million at Philips in the 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale.

Untitled, offered for sale at Philips next week

Lot 8B | Gerhard Richter | Abstraktes Bild, Oil on canvas
Created in 1994
225 x 200 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
  • Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch Collection, Berlin
  • Sotheby's, New York, 14 November 2001, Lot 31 (acquired from the above sale)
  • Eric Clapton, United Kingdom
  • Sotheby’s, London, 12 October 2012, Lot 15 (acquired from the above sale and sold: £21,321,250)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate upon request (expected to fetch US$35 million)
Hammer Price: US$33,000,000
Sold: US$38,175,000

The bidding for Abstraktes Bild opened at US$26 million. After less than two minutes, the hammer was dropped at US$33 million. It was sold through Joanna Szymkowiak, Head of Private Sales at Post-War & Contemporary Art, Americas to a client on the phone with paddle number 1573 for around US$38.2 million with fees – slightly higher than the auction house's expected price.

Joana winning the bid for a client with paddle number 1573

Painted by the German abstract master in 1994, Abstraktes Bild was last offered for sale in 2012, when the legendary guitarist Eric Clapton sold it for £21.32 million at Sotheby's in London, equivalent to approximately US$34 million at the time. A decade later, the painting is again on the auction block.

Abstraktes Bild was previously owned by Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is not only a world-renowned rockstar but also a famous art collector. This painting is among three 7-foot-high 1994 Richter works that Clapton had bought in 2001 for US$3.4 million at Sotheby’s. The other two, including Abstraktes Bild (809-1) and Abstraktes Bild (809-2), were both auctioned at Christie’s in New York and sold for US$21 million in 2013 and US$22.1 million in 2016 respectively.

Abstraktes Bild (809-2), sold for US$22.1 million in 2016

Among the world’s leading contemporary artists, Richter is at the top of the list in terms of status, fame and net worth. Known for his abstracts and photorealistic paintings, the artist has set records in the auction world in 2015 and 2013 at Sotheby’s accordingly. The records are:

  • Abstract painting|Abstraktes Bild, 300.5 x 250.5 cm, Sotheby’s London, sold for £30,389,000 (around US$39 million)
  • Photo-painting|Domplatz, Mailand, 275 x 290 cm, Sotheby’s New York, sold for US$37,125,000

Richter's innovative squeegee technique

Richter entered the world of abstract art around the 1960s and his techniques matured in the 1980s, developing a distinctive style. With a hard-edged plastic squeegee, he embarks on an arduous process of applying, then scraping off, and creates an intricate surface of immense details with consecutive layers of paint. The thick impasto sits alongside thin veneers of paint, revealing the texture of the warp and weft of the underlying canvas. Such an innovative technique broke away from the shackles of brushwork and opened up a new chapter in abstract art.

In his abstract works, Richter continues to allude to the theme of landscape, a subject often seen in his photorealistic paintings previously. His abstract paintings capture an atmosphere akin to a post-impressionistic translation of landscape scenery in the world of Western art.

Below is the young artists whose works fetched above US$1 million dollars and set their auction records:

Lot 5B | Matthew Wong | Green Room, Oil on canvas (The artist's auction record)
Created in 2017
243.8 x 182.9 cm

  • Karma, New York
  • Private collection, Paris
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$1,500,000 - 2,000,000
Hammer Price: US$4,400,000
Sold: US$5,340,000 

Born in Toronto in 1984, Matthew Wong lived alternately in Canada, Hong Kong and the United States. After completing an MFA in photography at the City University of Hong Kong in 2013, he began to teach himself to draw and paint, absorbing styles from masters Van Gogh, Matisse, Vuillard, Klimt and Bonnard, as well as from Chinese landscape painting and forms in the natural world. 

After a lifelong battle with autism, Wong tragically took his own life at the age of 35. His works have since then received widespread critical praise, delivering outstanding results at auctions. In 2020, his River at Dusk, 203.2 x 178 cm, painted in 2018 was sold for HK$37,760,000 (around US$4.8 million) at the Philips x Poly 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Hong Kong, setting his auction record. And now the record is broken by this Green Room, which fetched US$5.3 million. 

Lot 4B | Shara Hughes | Spin from Swiss, Oil and dye on canvas (The artist's auction record)
Created in 2017
198.1 x 177.8 cm

  • Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$500,000 - 700,000
Hammer Price: US$2,400,000
Sold: US$2,940,000

Born in 1981 in Atlanta, Georgia, Hughes earned her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and later attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Turning from interiors to landscapes in around 2015, her artworks often recall the vivid Fauvism of Henri Matisse and the rich saturation of David Hockney.

Young and talented, Hughes has already made her presence in the art world. Some of her artworks are in prominent collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Rachofsky Collection, Dallas; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington; and the Whitney Museum of Art, New York. 

Lot 9B | Ewa Juszkiewicz | Portrait of a Lady (After Louis Leopold Boilly), Oil on canvas (The artist's auction record)
Created in 2019
200 x 160 cm

  • Gagosian Gallery, New York
  • Private collection, New York
  • Donated by the above to the present owner

Estimate: US$200,000 - 300,000
Hammer Price: US$1,250,000
Sold: US$1,560,000

Ewa Juszkiewicz was born in Poland in 1984. The artist obtained her master's and doctoral degrees in painting there and is now an artist under the renowned gallery Gagosian.

Through her paintings, the artist challenges and confronts the Western conventional perceptions of female beauty. Her portraits of women are usually executed with traditional oil paintings approach, sometimes with a baroque or rococo style. But what stands out the most is her treatment with the women's faces. The faces, which should have delicate make-up, are either wrapped in fabric or covered with long hair, or even replaced by insects or flowers, giving them a sense of creepiness.

Lot 1B | Anna Weyant | Summertime, Oil on canvas (The artist's auction record)
Created in 2020
76.2 x 101.6 cm

  • 56 Henry, New York
  • Private collection, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$200,000 - 300,000
Hammer Price: US$1,200,000
Sold: US$1,500,000

Born in 1995, Anna Weyant was previously represented by Blum & Poe and 56 Henr, and now she is the youngest artist under Gagosian. The media reported last year that she was dating Larry Gagosian, the founder of Gagosian, though the gallery refused to respond at the time.

The Canadian artist, whose work is inspired by the Dutch Golden Age, has a preference for portraits of women and floral still lifes. Her works are often in subdued tones, veiled with murky darkness. 

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie’s New York
Sale: 21st Century Evening Sale
Date: 10 May 2022 
Number of lots: 31
Sale Rate: 100%
Sale Total: US$103,064,200