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New York's May Auctions:
Modigliani Sets Sotheby's Record

New York's Spring Modern and Contemporary auctions opened with a blaze, then fizzled, then sizzled. All three auctions, Sotheby's, Christie's and Phillips, had sales to crow about. Overall, sales were strong with few disappointments.

Modigliani's Nu cocheSotheby's opened the week with Modigliani's large horizontal nude Nu couche fetching $157 million, the highest priced painting ever sold by Sotheby's. Despite its high price, the sale was not without its disappointments. There was a single bidder who was a prearranged irrevocable bidder. The house offered an unpublished presale estimate of $150 million and without competitive interest in the piece, the sale was anticlimactic. Nevertheless, it was the highest price ever received at Sotheby's and the fourth most expensive work ever sold at auction. It was not the highest priced Modigliani sale with the honor going to Christie's which auctioned another nude in 2015 for $170 million.

The rest of the sales for the evening were lackluster with thirteen of the 45 lots not finding buyers and no individual artist records were set. Picasso's Le Repos pulled in $36.9 million just over the high estimate of $35 million. Most other lots sold with their estimate range without any true surprises. All toll, total sales reached $318 million, on the lower end of projected sales.

Flexible by Jean-Michael BasquiatLater in the week at Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Art sales brought in $397 million with over 90 per cent of the lots sold. None of the lots rivaled the Modigliani piece with Francis Bacon's Study for Portrait fetching $49.8 million. Andy Warhol's Double Elvis silkscreen took second honors at $37 million. A host of world records were achieved for other artists including: George Condo, Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Gober and Joan Mitchell.

At Phillips, Jean-Michel Basquiat was the star with estate offering several pieces. His Flexible (1984) was the top-selling piece at $45 million easily surpassing the high estimate of $30 million. Total sales for the show was $131 million with the only real disappointment was that Gerhard Richter's, Abstraktes Bild with estimates of $12-18 million failed to find a buyer.


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