What a difference a night can make.
Thursday morning’s auction in New York of less-valuable modern and contemporary works from the A. Alfred Taubman collection easily trumped Wednesday night’s sluggish sales, at least in terms of meeting or beating auction house Sotheby’s price spread.
“It’s going much better today than last night,” said Detroit gallerist David Klein, in New York for the two Taubman auctions. “This is what an auction really feels like.”
Most of the 123 sculptures, collages and works on paper hit their minimum price, unlike Wednesday’s far pricier “Masterworks” by the likes of Picasso, Pollock, Sargent and Rothko, many of which failed to cross that threshold.
“The pieces today are so more accessible,” Klein said. “A lot more people can afford this material.”
Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art agreed.
“Last night felt a little slow,” said Alexander Rotter, “but bidding on multimillion dollar items takes time and a lot of money. It’s not that there is such a wealth of people willing to spend $15 million.”
Klein also suggested there were built-in problems with some of Wednesday night’s “Masterworks” that may have undercut prices.
“I think there were quality and condition issues in some of the lots,” Klein said. “Estimates were very aggressive and the expectations enormous — it was supposed to be the second coming.”
Indeed, several pieces Wednesday failed to attract any bids whatsoever, a desultory performance that led New York art financier Asher Edelman to call the proceedings “messy” and “awful.”
Thursday’s big winners, at least in proportionate terms, were Robert Graham’s small nude statue, “Elisa,” which sold for six times its high at $210,000, and Richard Gerstl’s “Dame mit Federhut” that brought in four times its top estimate, for $3.1 million.
A series of vaguely pornographic Gustav Klimt drawings, for the most part easily beat their lows and in one case well exceeded the high peg, fetching $330,000.
An elegant gold screen by Cranbrook's legendary Harry Bertoia sold for $650,000, almost twice the Sotheby's high estimate.
A Paul Gaugin landscape beat its high, but in other cases — as with a couple Degas drawings and one Calder mobile — a famous name wasn’t enough to push the price over the low-ball estimates.
Thursday’s crowd was much smaller than the roughly 1,000 visitors the night before — heavier on working art dealers than socialites and celebrities. (On Wednesday, Detroiter Marsha Miro reported spotting Woody Allen and Valentino, the designer, not too far from her seat.)
The Taubman auctions have attracted huge attention, both in Detroit and nationwide. The Detroit real-estate developer and philanthropist bought Sotheby’s in 1983, but was convicted in a price-fixing scandal with Christie’s, and in 2001 served 10 months in a federal minimum-security prison.
The Michigan-born billionaire developer, whose company developed the Great Lakes Crossing mall in Auburn Hills and Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi, among many others, collected art of every period, genre and medium, from the old masters to contemporary art. He died in April at 91.
Sotheby’s also made a huge bet on the four Taubman Collection auctions, guaranteeing the former chairman’s heirs a payout of $500 million after a bidding war with Christie’s boosted the price.
But Rotter warns that observers shouldn’t be too quick to call Wednesday evening’s sales disappointing.
“I just want to say that $377 million in one evening,” which was Wednesday’s total take, “with 90 percent sales is not something that I’m ashamed of.”