Giacometti Fetches Record $33 Million in Listless Auction

Christie’s flopped for a second consecutive night in New York, as top-priced lots by Picasso, Modigliani and Leger failed to find buyers at a listless Impressionist and modern-art auction.

The $144.3 million tally last night was 23 percent short of the $188 million low estimate; 11 of 46 lots didn’t sell.

“There wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm out there,” said Tom Elghanayan, a New York developer who collects German expressionism. “You could feel it in the room.”

Monday night’s sale of art dealer Jan Krugier’s collection damped the mood, dealers said. It brought in $92.5 million, a third below the low end of its estimate. Including yesterday’s day sale, the Krugier works totaled $113.7 million.

Last night’s sale “also suffered from overestimation on several of the top lots,” said art adviser Mary Hoeveler. “Buyers don’t need to be told when something is a ‘masterpiece.’”

Alberto Giacometti’s portrait of his brother Diego, estimated at $30 million to $50 million, didn’t attract a bid in the room or on phone banks.

The painting was guaranteed by an undisclosed third party before the sale and the guarantor took it home for $32.6 million, a record for a Giacometti painting. Prices include commissions. Estimates do not.

The 1954 piece was sold by Jeffrey Loria, an art dealer and owner of the Miami Marlins baseball team, according to a state regulatory filing.

Young Prostitute

Until last night, the highest price for a Giacometti painting was $14.6 million, paid in 2008 at Sotheby’s New York for a 1964 portrait of Caroline, a young prostitute the artist met in 1959.

Modigliani’s 1918 portrait of an androgynous young man, “Monsieur Baranowski,” had a presale range of $25 million to $35 million. It failed to generate a single bid.

Picasso’s colorful 1963 painting “Le Peintre et Son Modele Dans un Paysage” had the same estimate -- and outcome.

The failure of the two lots knocked as much as $70 million off the evening’s tally.

“People are extremely selective,” Hoeveler said. “Unless the material is exceptional and fresh, they are just going to sit and watch.”

Mid-range prices inspired more bidding. And as on Monday night, Asian collectors won several pieces.

Three Chagalls

Chie Banta, Christie’s specialist for Impressionist and modern art in Japan, picked up at least three paintings by Marc Chagall for her telephone clients. The priciest, “Le Rappel,” fetched $4.4 million, exceeding the high estimate.

Rebecca Wei, managing director of Christie’s Asia, snagged a small Van Gogh drawing for $1.4 million, a Monet view of Giverny in winter for $5.2 million and a Picasso for $2.7 million. She also underbid Chagall’s “Au Cirque” painting.

The night before, Wei placed the winning bid on behalf of China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, who bought Picasso’s painting of his young children, Claude and Paloma, for $28.2 million, according to Christie’s. It was the Krugier collection’s top lot.

Last night’s Picasso, the 1965 “Tete de Femme au Chapeau” was also bought by Wang to join the corporate collection of Dalian Wanda Group, the real-estate conglomerate where he serves as chairman and president.

“Chinese collectors only want A-list artists, the names they don’t have to explain to their friends,” said Wei.

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