The New York Art World Now: What’s Happening This Season

The New York auction houses reported steady sales, the Whitney announced the list of artists featured in the 2017 Biennial, and President Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Maya Lin.

In the wake of the election, hardly anyone was paying attention to the art world. But good things were happening, including steady sales at the post-war and contemporary evening auctions at Phillips, Sotheby’s, and Christie’s; the release of the list of 63 artists included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial; and the presentation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 21 notable artists, actors, and public figures.

New York Auction Houses Report Moderate Sales: Although there was some speculation that the results of the Presidential election might positively affect the art market, the three major New York auction houses—Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips—reported steady numbers at the Impressionist, modern, post-war and contemporary art sales held two weeks ago. The theory was that wealthy collectors, emboldened by President-elect Trump’s proposed tax cuts, might more loosely spend money on art trophies. “I think there’s been a fairly good feeling among the art collectors this week,” Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith told CNBC last Thursday. “There’s just a lot of very wealthy people from all types of countries… and they have a lot of capital to deploy.

In fact, the sales stayed well within range of already conservative estimates, with a total of $574 million raised against a total pre-sale estimate of $523.9 million to $743.1 million in the three post-war and contemporary evening sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips.

GERHARD RICHTER Dϋsenjäger Estimate $25,000,000 – 35,000,000 SOLD FOR $25,565,000

The champion of the auction was Gerhard Richter, who fetched the highest prices at the evening sales of both Sotheby’s and Phillips. His painting A B Still (1986) sold for $34 million at Sotheby’s, and Dϋsenjäger (1963) sold for $25.6 million at Phillips. In total, Richter had 18 works on sale in the three major auction houses.

Perhaps most notable news was the rise of Phillips as a contender in the profit race between Sotheby’s and Christie’s. The smaller auction house netted $111.2 million at its contemporary evening sale, up 66% from last year. Sotheby’s raised a total of $276.6 million in its contemporary evening sale, while Christie’s netted $277.5 million.

The 2017 Whitney Biennial List Was Released: The first biennial to take place in the institution’s new Renzo Piano-designed building in the Meatpacking District, the 2017 Whitney Biennial will focus on themes such as the formation of self and the individual’s place in a turbulent society. Open from March 17–June 11, 2017, the Biennial will feature 63 artists and will be co-curated by Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks. Lew is the Nancy and Fred Poses associate curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Until recently, Locks was assistant curator at MoMA PS1. The exhibition will feature a diverse mix of emerging, mid-career, and established artists working across all mediums. Notable names include Jo Baer, Larry Bell, John Divola, Lyle Ashton Harris, Jon Kessler, An-My Lê, Leigh Ledare, Carrie Moyer, Frances Stark, Jordan Wolfson, and Anicka Yi. The full list can be viewed here.

View of the Whitney Museum from Gansevoort Street. Photographed by Ed Lederman, 2015

Maya Lin Among Most Recent Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom: Last week, President Obama named 21 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed in the past upon the likes of Bob Dylan, Maya Angelou, and Martin Luther King Jr. Among the honorees was artist Maya Lin, who is most well known for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Currently, she is working on a multi-sited artwork/memorial, What is Missing?, which raises awareness for species that are either already extinct or on the brink of disappearing from the planet. Another notable recipient is architect Frank Gehry, who designed the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Dancing House in Prague, and the Guggenheim Museum building in Bilbao, Spain. The list also includes Michael Jordan, Ellen DeGeneres, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, Saturday Night Live-creator Lorne Michaels, and Bruce Springsteen.