New York’s Spring auctions this year promise to be one of the most successful on record. The number of top end works on display at Sotheby’s York Ave and Christie’s on Rockefeller Plaza was almost unrivalled. The vast private collections that are up for grabs (Fineberg, Newhouse, Ostin et al) shows not only the magnetism of the auction house machines but also consignors’ real belief in the market during these tricky financial times. Perhaps May ’23 is the season for those presuming, perhaps unwisely, that we are on the cusp of a recession: i.e. should sellers ‘make hay whilst the sun shines’.

The main highlights are to be found at Sotheby’s and Christie’s with the Phillip’s sales inhibited by the recent reports, apparently, of significant financial issues. Sotheby’s boast the pick of the crop this term. Despite the remainder of the Newhouse collection and two other fine private collections I just felt that Sotheby’s seem to have just the right balance of mega-works at high estimates and lesser pictures at makeable levels – the Mo Ostin sale at Sotheby’s is very exciting too.

At York Ave my favourite pictures were those that were given the biggest kick by the marketing departments, so they are hardly news: a 10/10 Magritte and the Klimt depicting the lake at Attersee is a masterpiece – a real gem of a painting that is expected to make 45m USD. The calibre of Klimt’s paintwork, from the large foreground brushstrokes to the exquisite dots of paint toward the horizon, are masterful. I was hugely impressed by the showmanship in the placing of the humungous Louise Bourgeois ‘Spider’ against two strong spotlights – it made the work, perhaps wrongly, a little insidious. LB intended that these Spiders be heroic celebrations of femininity – the female of the species being stronger than the male.  Other gems at Sotheby’s included a small Richard Estes photo-realist piece depicting the Hudson stretching up to the Statue of Liberty on the horizon. I noted a slight comeback for Photorealism in November last year. Past market obsessions with the AbEx movement has maybe pushed luminaries such as Estes aside and yet now, with their easy legibility our tiny Cellphone screens, it is good to see such talent making a comeback! The real heroes at Sotheby’s were the marvellous range of Impressionist pictures, from a Paris Van Gogh to a stunning, stunning Caillebotte still-life. I was hugely impressed with the setting of the ‘Imps’ galleries too. As for the superstar Magritte, ‘L’Empire des Lumières’, it might not make the current record for the series (60m GBP) but I envisage a 40m USD price anyway!

Over at Christie’s I found the salon hang of their lower ground galleries remarkably brave but it didn’t really work – making the gallery look like a Tate Modern Poster wall (albeit worth 100m USD!). That said the quality of the work on offer was certainly top class with fabulous Alice Neel paintings, Picabia, Magritte and de Kooning hanging cheek-by-jowl. I loved the large Basquiat hanging on the main wall under the stairs – always a potent selling place – but was unsure as to where it sat in the lexicon of Basquiat’s finest work – it lacked a central point and seems a little disordered. Nonetheless, I am sure it will do incredibly well. In the main galleries I enjoyed the tartan Mlle. Matisse, the superb Cubist Picasso and the sensational Rauschenberg-like Jasper Johns of 1970. My steal of the week would be the wonderful unique jug by Marc Chagall at 100,000-150,000 USD – a little wonder in the vast modern Day Sale.

Enjoy the auctions and please, use an advisor if you are considering buying at auction as there are multiple pitfalls to be avoided!

The auction dates and links are as follows:

Thursday 11th May 2023

18:30 EDT:  Christie’s Masterpieces from the S. I. Newhouse Collection

19:00 EDT: Christie’s 20th Century Evening Sale

Friday 12th May

10:00 EDT: Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Saturday 13th May

10:00 EDT: Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Works on Paper Sale

13:30 EDT: Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

Monday 15th May

19:00 EDT: Christie’s 21st Century Evening Sale

Tuesday 16th May

10:00 EDT: Phillip’s 20th Century and Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning

14:00 EDT: Phillip’s 20th Century and Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon

18:00 EDT: Sotheby’s ‘The Mo Ostin Collection Evening Auction’

19:00 EDT: Sotheby’s Modern Evening Auction

Wednesday 17th May

10:00 EDT: Sotheby’s Modern Day Auction

17:00 EDT: Phillip’s 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

19:00 EDT: Christie’s ‘A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection Part I’

Thursday 18th May

10:00 EDT: Christie’s ‘A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection Part II’

18:00 EDT: Sotheby’s The Now Evening Auction

19:00 EDT: Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction

Friday 19th May

10:00 EDT: Sotheby’s Contemporary Day Auction