Basquiat and Other Artists of Color Lead a Swell of Auction Sales

Just as the art market withstood the trauma of the Sept.

In a deliberately sparse salesroom in Manhattan, with auction specialists beamed in from London and Hong Kong on screens, business was strong at Sotheby’s, which raised a total of $218.3 million from 32 lots.

Among the lots that generated particular bidding excitement was Robert Colescott’s take on Washington crossing the Delaware, placing George Washington Carver in command.

“This is such an essential work for our collection — it has not been out there in the public sphere,” Sandra Jackson-Dumont, the director and chief executive of the museum, said in a telephone interview after the sale.

Also noteworthy was the competitive bidding for Salman Toor’s 2019 painting “The Arrival,” which was recently on view in the artist’s solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Other lots proved lackluster, like Jeff Koons’s phantasmagoric painting “Pancakes,” from 2001, which sold for $867,000 with fees, under the $1 million low estimate.

The anticipation was highest for the market’s blockbuster Black artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, who had delivered at Christie’s with a skull painting that brought $93.1 million — the second-highest price ever paid for the artist’s work at auction.

But from their blue velvet lounge chairs, only a few collectors raised their paddles to bid.

And in many cases, works by newcomers brought the most bidding activity.

By contrast, the energy seemed to drain from the rooms when it came to the more conventional contemporary market stars.

Still, some industry experts warned that the auction houses were hedging their bets this week with relatively few offerings compared with years past, estimates below primary-market prices and a high proportion of guarantees ensuring that lots would sell.

Still unclear is whether the current interest in artists of color will last.

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