Following its global relay “ONE” sale in July, Christie’s will hold the first major sales run by the house’s newly merged modern and contemporary departments this October instead of the traditional November. The hybrid live format day and evening sales will take place at the house’s Rockefeller Center location on October 6 and 7.
“We’re giving consignors and buyer multiple opportunities this fall to buy at auction,” Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman of postwar and contemporary art in New York, said in an interview when asked what caused the scheduling shift. “These collectors are happily making use of a wide range of platforms, they are buying works across categories, and they certainly are not glued to the conventional auction schedule.”
Christie’s witnessed the success of Sotheby’s “Rembrandt to Richter” sale in June—an “unthinkable date,” according to Rotter—and decided it could also shift collectors’ calendars. But the move was also driven by a desire to seize on a bright moment for the art market, one which some prognosticators fear won’t last, due to the possibility of a second pandemic wave. “Rather than wait for the worst-case scenario, we decided to take advantage of the moment now as long as it holds,” Rotter said, adding that the house still plans to host its typical November sales, but is merely exploring its options with the October one.
The cross-categorical offerings will feature a range of works spanning art movements of the last century. Among the highest-valued works secured for the auction is Paul Cézanne’s watercolor still-life Nature morte avec pot au lait, melon et sucrier. The work, completed between 1900–06, carries a storied provenance, having been first sold by the prominent French dealer Ambroise Vollard to Alexandre Berthier, a French noble killed in WWI. From there, after a four-year gap in records, the painting went to American collectors Edsel and Eleanor Ford in 1933, and has been in the family’s private ownership since. Kicking off the new October schedule, the Cézanne, which carries an estimate of up to $25 million and a guarantee, will tour Christie’s Hong Kong and London headquarters between September 1 and 11.
“From the ‘ONE’ sale, we have learned very interesting facts that were a revelation to us,” Alex Rotter, Christie’s Chairman of Postwar and Contemporary Art in New York, said in an interview, adding that, prior to the pandemic, the art world’s global calendar was much more fixed. “[The ‘ONE’ sale] showed date flexibility and category flexibility”—both of which will be taken into account as the house plots out its fall season, he said.
According to Rotter, “every spin worked in its own way,” and now it doesn’t matter how works are made available to buyers—the auctions will see success regardless. The “ONE” sale, for example, had a showcase at the Parrish Museum on New York’s Long Island, which, in most years, would have been an unusual move. Rotter said that presentation helped raise awareness for the sale—and may have created more comfortability with the auction’s merged-category format.
Rotter argued that there were art-historical reasons for putting 20th- and 21st-century works up for sale alongside one another, too. “Picasso, Brancusi, Giacometti, and Cézanne”—giants of 20th-century European modernism—”are figures that are relevant to artists that come later,” Rotter said.
Along with the announcement of the new event on the market’s calendar, Christie’s said it will stage corresponding evening sales in London and Paris, to coincide with the FIAC in Paris and the digital edition of Frieze London. Additional lots scheduled for those sales, which will take place on October 22 to 23, include Georg Baselitz’s 1977 painting Weiblicher Akt – Liegend (Female Nude – Lying), estimated at a £900,000–£1.2 million ($1.2 million–$1.6 million) and set to go up for sale in London, and Zao Wou-Ki’s 1968 abstract painting 31.07.68 b, which is expected to fetch between €1.1 million–€1.5 million ($1.3 million–$1.8 million).