After announcing that it had consolidated its modern and contemporary art departments last year, Christie’s has now revealed plans to adjust how it conducts its marquee evening sales in New York, beginning with its May auctions, which are typically seen as the bellwethers of the art market. Traditionally, works from the postwar era—Pollocks, Rothkos, and others—would be sold alongside more contemporary works from the 1980s onward. Now, the Pollocks will be sold next to Monets and Picassos.
As part of this rebranding change, which in part accounts for the continued dominance of contemporary art and recent rise of a kind of digital art known as NFTs, Christie’s will now host a “20th and 21st Century Marquee Week” that will divide the art being sold into two umbrellas: “20th Century Art,” a long century that will include art made between the 1880s and the 1980s, and “21st Century Art,” art made after 1980. The 20th century art evening sale will take place on May 11 and the 21st century art sale is scheduled for May 13.
In a press release that touted the house’s “anticipation of a new era for the art world,” Christie’s said that the changes to its sale reflect a desire “to make new stylistic connections, approach topics such as race and revolution from a new lens, and create space to amplify voices that have been historically overlooked and undervalued.”
In a statement, Alexander Rotter, whose title has been changed from chairman of postwar and contemporary art to chairman of 20th century and 21st century art, said,” At Christie’s, we are embracing the spirit of evolution and revolution, and shifting the way we present the art of the 20th and 21st Centuries to reflect a new day. This time of upheaval has had an enormous impact on the art world. It has impacted the nature of art that is being created today and has altered our understanding on the art of the past.”
Christie’s release also stated that by demarcating contemporary art as art of the 21st century, it will be able to emphasize art made in the last 40 years, making “plenty [of] room for the new–both physical and digital.” The house was alluding to its recent foray into the crypto art market, selling an NFT for $69.3 million last week, in an online auction that made Beeple the third-most expensive living artist.
Even with this greater focus on the contemporary, Christie’s is still betting big on blue-chip art from eras past. Headlining the May 11 evening sale is Claude Monet’s Waterloo Bridge, effet de brouillard, (1899–1903), which is expected to fetch a price in the region of $35 million. (The official estimate is available upon request.)
Part of the Impressionist artist’s famed series depicting the River Thames, the masterpiece last sold at Sotheby’s in May 1999 for $9.3 million. In the early 20th century, it was owned by prominent Massachusetts philanthropist Amy Powell and was exhibited widely in Boston. Other works from the series are held in international museum collections, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Art Institute of Chicago, the State Hermitage Museum in Russia, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Monet’s London Series marks the artist’s coming of age in the early 1900s and the move towards what we now call the great avant-garde movements of the 20th Century,” Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkkanen said in a statement.
The headlining lot for Christie’s May 13 contemporary art sale comes in a 1989 Martin Kippenberger sculpture, titled Martin, ab in die Ecke und schäm Dich (Martin, Into the Corner, You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself). A self-portrait of the artist made in response to an art critic’s condemnation of his work, it is expected to achieve a price between $10 million and $15 million. In the same sale, Jordan Casteel’s 2013 portrait Jiréh, which has been featured in exhibitions at the New Museum and Denver Museum of Art, will be offered at an estimate of $350,000–$550,000.