Following the $676 million sale of the Macklowe collection on Monday, Sotheby’s staged the last set of evening sales in its marquee week in New York on Thursday night. Two back-to-back sales offering contemporary art, punctuated by a single-lot auction devoted to a rare copy of the U.S. Constitution, brought in a total of $233 million.
Of the 59 lots offered in the three sales, 56 sold, making for a 94 percent sell-through rate. Twenty-six lots in the auctions were guaranteed; 18 of them were secured with irrevocable bids. The total hammer price for the entire grouping (before fees were added) came to $200.6 million, just surpassing its collective pre-sale estimate of $140.8 million–$199.8 million.
Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker returned to the podium on Thursday to wrap the series, which included the debut of a new sale devoted to art made from the 2000s and on, under the title “The Now.” With the reformat, Sotheby’s sought to further capitalize on in-demand emerging artists, whose works have opened evening sales in the past. Tonight, the house sought to stage an entire event around these so-called “first lots,” which typically attract a swarm of bidders from across the globe and set the tone for the rest of the auction.
The move paid off. Power dealers like Brett Gorvy and Dominique Lévy were among those in the audience who watched the room buzz after the first few lots were triumphs. Those lots spurred momentum that continued throughout the night’s three-hour-long series of sales.
‘Now’ Evening Sale Gains Momentum
In the first portion of the night, the work that fetched the highest price was a 1996 painting by Yoshitomo Nara depicting his signature wide-eyed child protagonist wielding a knife. That painting, Nice to See You Again, hammered at $13 million, surpassing its $12 million high estimate. It went to a Hong Kong bidder on the phone with Yin Zhao, a specialist with Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art department. It last sold at auction in 2005, when the current seller purchased it for just $329,600.
Another big-ticket item was a deep-blue night scene by market darling Matthew Wong. Night Crossing (2018), painted before the young artist died by suicide in 2020, exceeded its estimate. It sold for $4.9 million, four times its $1 million estimate. The painting went to an online bidder, who persisted against five other hopeful buyers on the phone banks in New York, London, and Hong Kong. Another work that over-performed was Lukas Duwenhogger’s painting Rezalet (Impertinence), 1998, a surreal scene depicting four figures inspired by late 19th-century English literary characters. At least six bidders from New York to London and Hong Kong competed for the painting. Hammering ultimately with a New York bidder, it sold for a final price of $649,200, 8 times its low estimate of $80,000.
Bidders from Asia, New York, and London also drove up the prices for young newcomers represented in the sale. The first lot of the night, Flor (2018), a large-scale collage work by Brooklyn-based, Colombia-born painter Maria Berrio, depicts a seated woman. It likewise stunned the crowd, selling for a record-setting $927,500, 8 times the low estimate of $80,000. Cape Town painter Lisa Brice’s No Bare Back, After Embah (2018), which features silhouetted female nudes, prompted a similar amount of bidding from Hong Kong and New York, as well as from online users. It sold for $3.2 million, going for more than 15 times its $200,000 low estimate. Toyin Ojih Odutola’s Through Line (2017), a charcoal and pencil work on paper featuring a standing female figure, outpaced expectations, bringing the artist her highest-ever auction price when it sold for $2.2 million. The result exceeded her previous record of $832,700, set at Sotheby’s Hong Kong this past April. The energy in the room was palpable, and Barker told the crowd, “The best start to an auction I’ve ever had.”
Crypto Investors Make a Dramatic Bid for the U.S. Constitution
Directly following the first sale, Barker handed over the gavel to his colleague Quig Brunning, Sotheby’s head of jewelry, to lead the single-lot sale of a rare copy of the U.S. Constitution. Sold by a New York–based philanthropist Dorothy Tapper Goldman to raise funds for her foundation, the document was offered with an irrevocable bid. It’s one of 11 surviving first copies of the 1787 edition of the Constitution, and it’s the only version that remains in private hands.
In an unexpected plot twist, news broke before the sale that a group of crypto investors going by the name DAO Constitution had pooled nearly $20 million in funds to bid on the work. Earlier on in the auction, Sotheby’s opened up bidding in increments of the cryptocurrency Ether (ETH) in order to attract crypto-wealthy buyers hoping to purchase two works by Banksy. Ultimately, it seems the house picked the wrong lot to lure this unpredictable buyer base.
Two bidders on the phone with Sotheby’s chairman Brooke Lampley and David Schrader, Sotheby’s head of private sales, competed for the work, driving the hammer price up to $41 million, more than double the $15 million low estimate. The document sold for a final price of $43 million.
‘Incredibly Global’ Bidders
Among the top works sold in the final portion of the night was Roy Lichtenstein’s Two Paintings: Craig (1983), featuring his signature buxom blonde protagonist. It sold for $20.3 million, against an estimate of $12 million, and went to a bidder in the room. The winner prevailed over bidders on the phone with Sotheby’s Asia chairman Patti Wong and New York’s head of contemporary art Grégoire Billault to win it.
The second-highest price paid for a work by Cecily Brown was also set during the sale, when her monumental painting Spree (1996), from the collection of late Los Angeles TV producer Douglas Cramer, sold for $6.6 million. It hammered at $5.5 million after a bidding spar between bidders in Hong Kong and New York, eventually going to a bidder in the room. The result came just shy of the artist’s previous record price of $6.8 million, notched at Sotheby’s New York in 2018. Another abstraction by Brown from the Cramer collection, titled Bend Sinister (2002), sold for $6.4 million, 8 times the $800,000 low estimate.
A new record was set for Romare Bearden when his painting of an urban landscape, The Street (1975), sold for $1.1 million, against an estimate of $400,000. The result surpassed his previous record of $770,200, paid for The Fortune Teller (1968) for at Sotheby’s New York just last year. Records were also set for Jordan Casteel and Adam Pendleton.
By the night’s end, Sotheby’s had completed its mission of once again merging the old and the new on the auction block, appealing to a wide range of bidders with varying tastes. From a centuries-old artifact to the market’s youngest talents, bidding remained strong across Hong Kong, London, and New York.
In an interview with ARTnews following the sale, Sotheby’s head of the contemporary art evening sale in New York, David Galperin, described the sale’s bidding as “extremely deep and incredibly global,” adding, “We saw extraordinary recalibration. It was hit after hit—collectors willing to fight for what they consider best in class.”