Art market

Auction results: Twombly triumphs as one Warhol wobbles

While Sotheby's struggled with Little Electric Chair, Christie's had no such problems

Cy Twombly

The Twombly market got a huge boost this season. At Christie’s, bidding for an untitled 1970 blackboard painting filled with the artist’s trademark loops opened at $24m—already more than the $21.6m record set for the artist last year. This was smashed after a six-minute battle between bidders, including the dealers David Zwirner, David Nahmad and Andrew Fabricant. The work sold for $69.6m, far above its $55m high estimate, to a bidder on the telephone with Isabelle de la Bruyere, Christie’s head of client advisory, based in London. Blackboard paintings are among the artist’s most desired works and this “was probably the most important painting in the auction—of its kind, it’s as good as it gets,” says Stefano Basilico, an art advisor. Trade sources say that the market benefited from the settlement of a legal dispute between two directors of the artist’s estate in March. “Markets get jittery if people don’t know how the estate is going to go,” one expert says. “Once the lawsuit cleared up, people felt more comfortable.”

Andy Warhol

Christie’s and Sotheby’s each featured an edition of Andy Warhol’s silkscreen Little Electric Chair, both from 1964-65, with very different results. The Sotheby’s work (bottom, left), which was guaranteed and estimated to sell for between $7.5m and $9.5m, failed to find a buyer despite the fact that a yellow work from the same series sold at Christie’s in May for $10.5m to Chinese restaurateur Zhang Lan (est $7.5m-$9.5m). “The Warhol sold in May was much better in terms of the colour, the screen and the condition, so there was much more competition for that,” says the dealer Stellan Holm. Others say the yellow in the Sotheby’s work was too pastel for a grisly image, compared with the stronger hue of the version sold earlier this year. Nonetheless, the Sotheby’s work was considered superior to a blue version on offer at Christie’s the following evening, which had a darker screen and less sharp print quality. Despite this, the work found more favour: bidding began at $2.6m and escalated quickly, selling for $6m in just over a minute (est $3.5m-$5.5m). Part of the discrepancy can be explained by the pricing of the works: Christie’s had a lower estimate that might have enticed more bidders to partake, say trade sources. Equally, the work was cleverly positioned in the Christie’s auction. It was on the block at lot 16, and benefited from the success of two major Warhol works that sold before: Triple Elvis, 1963, which climbed in million-dollar increments to sell for $81.9m, and Four Marlons, 1966, which sold for $69.6m (both works had estimates in the region of $60m).