The second portion of Sotheby’s two-part sale of works from the collection of public art duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude, which in total comprised 373 lots, finished online on Thursday. The latter half of the sale raked in an additional $1.4 million in sales, bringing the entire auction’s total to €9.2 million ($11.2 million). (Nearly 30 lots were auctioned on Wednesday, in a live sale that netted $9.8 million.) At the end of the more-than-week-long stretch, the estate sale more than doubled its initial high estimate of €4.2 million ($5.1 million); every work auctioned was placed with a buyer.
Known for their large-scale public art projects involving wrappings of international public sites, the Bulgarian-born artist Christo, who died in May 2020, continued executing installations following Jeanne-Claude’s death in 2009. Later this year, one of Christo’s biggest projects, a wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, will be unveiled posthumously.
The sale of works benefiting the Christo and Jeanne-Claude estate realized new records for Christo and William N. Copley, and included works by artists who were in the duo’s circle. The results of each sale proved the impact of provenance, with the unique ownership record bringing new attention to the tepid markets of artists who are favored by institutions and historians rather than trophy-hunting collectors.
The second segment of the collection sale, titled “Unwrapped, Part II: The Hidden World of Christo and Jeanne-Claude,” which took place online from February 8–18, saw 345 works, the bulk of which were estimated below €20,000, largely surpass pre-sale values. Among the top performers in the grouping for the online sale was Holzer’s undated cast aluminum block You Live the Surprise Results of Old Plans (from The Survival Series), which sold for €63,000 ($76,200), more than 10 times its estimate of €5,000. Elsewhere in the sale, video art pioneer Nam June Paik’s Before the world there was light, after the world there will be light (1992), a vintage TV casing with a lit candle inside, saw strong bidding move its final premium price up to €56,700 ($68,400).
Nam June Paik,Before the world there was light, after the world there will be light,1992
Typically, conceptual art is relegated to day sales and given lower values. Here, context brought that area of art history new attention.
“That’s a pretty rare thing to be able to do, to see and bid on the artists’ own work alongside works that they lived with on their owns wall,” said Simon Shaw, vice chairman of Sotheby’s fine arts division. “I think it gave the works by Fontana, by Duchamp, by Warhol and others in the sale, a context for understanding Christo’s own legacy and why his work was so influential.”
The unusual backstory behind these works’ presentation—they were shown in Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s New York apartment—even bolstered the value of lots that are not known to be rare. One such case was an untitled work by Keith Haring depicting the artist’s signature haloed cartoon infant, which sold for €56,700 ($68,400). Though works by Haring are pervasive in the secondary market, this piece, having come to auction for the first time with only two prominent owners (the first being German designer Jörg Schellmann), saw the work exceed its estimate of €8,000 seven times over.
At one point, a 1975 edition of Man Ray’s readymade Object indestructible, a metronome with a ticker featuring an image of his muse Lee Miller’s eye, sold for €47,880 ($57,800), against an estimate of €7,000. And a work by Egyptian-born artist and critic Nicolas Moufarrege, who worked in the New York in the early 1980s, surpassed expectations. Titled Pyramid I (1980) made with fabric patterns and paint, the piece, which Christo and Jeanne-Claude acquired directly from Moufarrege, sold for €44,100 ($53,200), 29 times the estimate of €1,500. Though not well-known in many circles, Mouffarege’s prominence is growing, thanks to a 2018–19 retrospective at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in Texas.
In yesterday’s sale, the only work that failed to reach its estimate was by Mary Bauermeister. But in the online auction, an untitled 1968 mixed media work by her spurred greater interest, selling for €35,280 ($42,600) and doubling its estimate of €15,000.