ALL THAT STANDS BETWEEN YOU and owning works by some of the most highly regarded artists practicing today is the wave of a paddle. Major auction houses are staging their fall contemporary sales this week. Works by El Anatsui, Chris Ofili, Mickalene Thomas and Glenn Ligon are up for consideration.

Bidding is underway already with Sotheby’s conducting its first of two sessions yesterday evening, where “Untitled (I Was Somebody)” and “Warm Broad Glow” by Ligon set records for the artist. Sotheby’s final event was this morning. Christie’s sales are today and tomorrow, Nov. 12 and 13, and its online contemporary sale of 87 lots continues through Nov. 16. The sales at Phillips are Nov. 13 and 14.

Along with Ligon, Anatsui, Ofili and Thomas, there are a number of other black artists whose works (several with multiple lots) are up for auction across the three major houses, familiar names including Jean Michel-Basquiat, Mark Bradford, Nick Cave, Rashid Johnson, Kerry James Marshall, Julie Mehretu, Oscar Murillo, Chris Ofili, Martin Puryear, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, Jack Whitten, Kehinde Wiley and Kara Walker.

mickalene thomas - can't we just sit down
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction, Nov. 12, 2014
Lot 625: MICKALENE THOMAS, “Can’t We Just Sit Down (And Talk It Over) (From She Works Hard for the Money Pin-Up Series), 2004 (acrylic, enamel and rhinestones on panel). | Estimate $40,000 – $60,000. Sold for $81,250 including fees.

Whether or not you are a buyer, auction season is a prime time to view work by a selection of sought-after artists. Auction houses are open to the public for preview exhibitions in advance of sales, presenting an opportunity to see in person blue-chip art that has usually been out of the public view in private collections. In addition, all of the art can be viewed online and print catalogs are available for purchase.

Auctions are also prime vehicles for observing the art market. Provenance reports contain chain of ownership information and reveal clues about whether the work has been in an owner’s possession for decades or is being flipped after a short time. If a lot was purchased at a previous auction, you can find out how much the work was acquired for. After bidding has concluded, sales results gauge values for individual artists and provide a sense of the market overall and in particular genres.

Among the three auction houses, Sotheby’s offered the widest selection of works by black artists. Aside from the record sales Ligon registered at the Nov. 11 auction, interest in lots by black artists so far this week has been fairly tepid to average, with most works selling safely within estimates. Several works have gone unsold (which is not uncommon) by Bradford, Johnson, Mutu and Walker and Ligon, too, among others.

el anatsui - man's cloth II
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction, Nov. 12, 2014
Lot 460: EL ANATSUI, “Man’s Cloth II,” 2006 (aluminum bottle caps, neckbands and copper wire) | Estimate $700,000 – $1 million. Sold for $989,000 including fees.

Ofili and Anatsui are currently exhibiting in New York. The New Museum is presenting a major survey of Ofili’s work, his first-ever in a U.S. museum. Anatsui’s sculptural textiles are on view at Jack Shainman Gallery and Mnuchin Gallery. Will the fact that these events coincide with the auctions raise their profile and positively influence the prices their work brings? For Ofili it did not. At Sotheby’s, interest in his Untitled Afromuse couple (shown below) and a second lot featuring a trio of watercolor portraits, was flat with the hammer prices hovering near the low estimates.

Of course, any number of factors affect buyer behavior. One of Anatsui’s masterful works (above) sold within estimates at Sotheby’s. Another will be auctioned tomorrow at Christie’s. Whether the Ghanaian-born artist will enjoy a boost remains to be seen.

This post features a selection of the lots up for bid. CT

chris ofili - untitled (two works) afromuses
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction, Nov. 12, 2014
Lot 500: CHRIS OFILI, “Untitled (Two Works),” 2004 | Estimate $30,000 – $40,000. Sold for $32,500 including fees.

tavares strachan - you belong here
Phillips Contemporary Art Day Auction, Nov. 14, 2014
Lot 249: TAVARES STRACHAN, “You Belong Here,” 2014 (pink neon; number 4 from an edition of 5). | This lot is being sold courtesy the artist to benefit the Dubin Breast Center at the Mount Saaai Health System: Estimate $20,000 – $30,000. Sold for $43,750 including fees.

Tavares Strachan is participating in Prospect 3: New Orleans where another example of the this work is currently on view. The neon sign is installed on a barge in the Mississippi River. He originally intended for the work to be towed up and down the river during the three-month citywide art exhibition, but The Times-Picayune reports cost became an issue. As a result, after a maiden voyage on Oct. 25, it remains docked at the Esplanade Street Wharf where it will be displayed until Prospect 3 concludes on Jan. 25, 2015.

mark bradford, black power
Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session, Nov. 13, 2014
Lot 411: MARK BRADFORD, “Black Power,” 2005 (acrylic, permanent weave end papers, tape and printed paper collage on canvas). | Estimate $800,000 – $1.2 million. Sold for $965,000 including fees.

kehind wiley -the dead christ within the tomb
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction, Nov. 12, 2014
Lot 529: KEHINDE WILEY, “The Dead Christ Within the Tomb,” 2007 (oil and enamel on canvas in artist’s frame). | Estimate $100,000 – #150,000. Sold for $118,750 including fees.

warm broad glow
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction, Nov. 11, 2014
Lot 48: GLENN LIGON, “Warm Broad Glow,” 2005 (neon installation; number one of an edition of one plus one artist’s proof). | Est. $400,000 – $600,000. Sold for $935,000 including fees.

kerry james marshall - vignette
Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session, Nov. 13, 2014
Lot 443: KERRY JAMES MARSHALL, “Vignette,” 2003 (acrylic on fiberglass in artist’s wood frame). | Estimate $400,000 – $600,000. Sold for $1,025,000 including fees.


Phillips Contemporary Art Evening Auction, Nov. 13, 2014
Lot 9: JULIE MEHRETU, “Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence),” 2004 (ink, acrylic on canvas, laid over wood panel). | Estimate $1 million – $1.5 million. Sold for $1,205,000 including fees.

This post has been updated with final auction results.