A Blue-Chip Glut at New York Fall Art Auctions

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Sotheby’s and Christie’s ready their fall art sales in New York

Édouard Manet’s ‘Spring’EN
Édouard Manet’s ‘Spring’ CHRISTIE’S

“10¢” is a black-and-white painting from 1961 by Roy Lichtenstein, but good luck trying to buy it for a dime. Christie’s International will ask at least $800,000 for the work at New York’s major fall auctions that start Tuesday.

Over the next two weeks, at least $1.6 billion of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art will enter the art marketplace—a low estimate that ranks among the highest presale benchmarks for Christie’s and Sotheby’s . At least 38 works carry $10 million-plus asking prices, including an Alberto Giacometti sculpture of a woman riding a chariot that Sotheby’s is selling for $100 million or more.

The blue-chip glut indicates that sellers are feeling confident about art values following ebullient sales this spring and solid results over the summer. Sellers this round include top collectors like home-improvement-store magnate Frank Cohen and the foundation for manufacturing billionaire Mitchell Rales. They tend to sell artworks only when the market seems like a safe bet.

Alberto Giacometti’s ‘Chariot’ENLARGE
Alberto Giacometti’s ‘Chariot’ SOTHEBY’S

In these auctions, market-watchers will be looking for clues about an overall pricing trajectory but also will gauge the popularity and price levels for dozens of the world’s top artists. Dealers say Cubist works could fare well, given the buzz lately over cosmetics billionaire Leonard Lauder ’s recent gift and current exhibit of 81 Cubist works at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Andy Warhol also appears unstoppable: The two houses will offer 19 examples by the Pop master valued at an estimated $265 million combined in their evening sales alone.

Here’s a closer look at four artists whose markets are about to undergo a major test.

ALBERTO GIACOMETTI

When this Swiss sculptor’s “Walking Man I” sold for $103.9 million at Sotheby’s four years ago, it transformed the market for sculptures that came in various versions. (Giacometti made six bronze casts of that ambling man, but the multiplicity didn’t deter bidders.) On Tuesday, Sotheby’s will ask $100 million for Giacometti’s “Chariot,” a nearly 5-foot-tall figure of a spindly woman standing astride a two-wheeled carriage. This version was cast in an edition of six, but only two are left in private hands. “It’s also the only version he ever painted gold,” said Sotheby’s expert Simon Shaw.

ÉDOUARD MANET

Price levels for this 19th-century French master haven’t been seriously tested since Sotheby’s sold Manet’s dour self-portrait for $33.2 million four years ago. Collectors prefer a cheery-colored Manet, so they may chase hard for Manet’s flowering portrait of a chic Parisienne actress, “Spring,” when it comes up for auction on Wednesday. Manet intended the 1881 work to be a series on the four seasons, but he died halfway through the project.

CHRISTOPHER WOOL

Last fall, Mr. Wool’s stenciled word painting “Apocalypse Now” sold at Christie’s for a record-setting $26.4 million, but other examples by the New York artist, born in 1955, have fluctuated wildly since. So expect dealers to closely track the performance of the six Wools headed for sale this time around. Christie’s wants at least $12 million for “Fool,” a 1990 work it sold two years ago for $7.7 million. Dealers say bargains may be found by shifting from Mr. Wool’s word paintings to his later abstracts. Sotheby’s is asking $6.5 million-plus for the artist’s red-and-black abstract from 2004, “Last Year Halloween Fell on a Weekend.”

KAZUO SHIRAGA

One clue that the market is riding high: Auction houses introduce lesser-known names into their evening-sale rosters. This season, Christie’s has “BB56,” a swirling red abstract by this Japanese action painter. Shiraga earned a reputation in 1950s Europe for painting while being suspended in midair. He died in 2008, and now his works are suddenly gaining favor with American collectors like Dallas’s Howard Rachofsky. On Nov. 12, Christie’s will ask at least $3 million for an example from 1961.

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