Yieldstreet art equity fund artists shine in blockbuster $2.8 billion May auctions

June 2, 20226 min read
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Key takeaways

  • Despite volatility in the broader financial markets, the big three auction houses brought in a combined $2.8 billion in May, a staggering total, and the highest amount on record for any auction season without adjusting for inflation.

  • Works by leading 20th Century blue-chip artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Edward Ruscha, both of whom are represented in Yieldstreet’s Art Equity Fund IV, continue to achieve record prices as the art market consensus builds toward recognizing them as all-time greats.

  • Female artists and artists of color, such as Yayoi Kusama, Amoako Boafo, and Stanley Whitney, all had works that sold in the May auctions for prices significantly above their estimates, reflecting collectors’ broader shift toward recognizing artists that the traditional art market had historically undervalued. 
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘Untitled’ (1982). Acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 94 1/4 x 197 1/4 inches. Image courtesy of Phillips. 

The marquee May auctions in New York, widely considered to be among the most important art sales of the year, serve as a barometer for the health of the overall art market. Despite global and economic turmoil, rising inflation and interest rates, and volatility in the stock market, the art market has continued to perform exceedingly well. The big three auction houses – Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips – brought in a stunning $2.8 billion in combined sales in May, the highest total on record for any auction season without adjusting for inflation.

Unsurprisingly, many of the artists in Yieldstreet’s art equity funds had works on offer in this past season’s series of sales. Below, we take a look at a few specific lots that sold to see how they performed against their pre-sale expectations to give Yieldstreet investors a sense of how fund artists continue to perform in today’s art market. 

Record Results for Artists Featured in Yieldstreet’s Art Equity Fund IV

Yieldstreet’s Art Equity Fund IV features top contemporary artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Edward Ruscha, among others. The robust results for both Basquiat and Ruscha this past May continue to prove both artists’ enduring value to collectors worldwide. 

Ruscha’s 1993 large scale work, ‘Cold Beer Beautiful Girls’ was a highlight of Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening auction on May 19th. Offered with a pre-sale estimate of $15 million – $20 million, the highly prized painting ended up selling for $18.8 million, demonstrating not only  stability but also  phenomenal growth in Ruscha’s market over the past few years. This sale represented the 5th highest price for a work by Ruscha ever sold at auction, and the highest price for a post-1960s’ painting by the artist. Consider this mind-boggling statistic: The seller of ‘Cold Beer Beautiful Girls’ purchased the painting at Christie’s in 2002 for $537,500 against a pre-sale estimate of $400,000 – $600,000, meaning he realized a 3,400% return on his investment. 

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Such immense returns are often outliers, but in addition to  ‘Cold Beer, Beautiful Girls’ an earlier work by Ruscha that sold in Christie’s 20th Century Evening Sale, ‘No Sleep’ (1965) sold for $2.94 million, almost $1 million more than its $2 million high estimate. Both lots emphasize  the art market’s growing consensus that Edward Ruscha is widely viewed as one of the all-time greats of the 20th century.

At Phillips, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s mammoth 94 x 197 inch untitled work from 1982 (widely considered to be the most important year for the artist) sold for $85 million against its pre-sale estimate of $70 million. The sale represents the third highest price for a Basquiat painting ever sold at auction, and like the Ruscha painting, offers a tantalizing glimpse at the stunning returns that are possible when investing in high quality works by leading blue-chip artists. The painting was consigned to Phillips by  Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa, who bought the painting at Christie’s in May 2016 for a then record-setting price of $57.2 million. At the time, it was being sold by the New York-based collector Adam Lindemann who himself had purchased it at Sotheby’s in June 2004 for $4.5 million.

Art Equity Fund III: Continued Successes For Female and Artists of Color

In our previous article, The Canvas surmised that previously marginalized artists, such as women and artists of color, would continue to shine at this season’s auctions. At 93 years old, Yayoi Kusama has had a long career as an artist, however she only started to receive broad institutional recognition within the past 20 years or so. Currently one of the most expensive living female artists on both the primary and secondary markets, her works are included in major institutions and prominent collections, and she is currently the feature of a solo exhibition of the Smithonian’s preeminent contemporary art museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden titled ‘One with Eternity: Yayoi Kusama in the Hirshhorn Collection.’ 

This season, as expected,  Kusama continued her market ascent. Between Christie’s and Phillips, four lots were auctioned, all of which surpassed their high estimate. The most prominent of these was her 1959 work ‘Untitled (Nets)’ from her highly regarded ‘Infinity Net’ series. Offered in Phillip’s 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale with a presale estimate of $5 million – $7 million before ultimately selling for $10.5 million. Three smaller scale Kusama works were also offered in Christie’s Post War and Contemporary Art Day Sale on May 13th. Kusama’s ‘Pumpkin’ (1989) was purchased for $529,200, more than doubling its low estimate of $250,000; while ‘Flower’ (1953) had a realized $201,600, easily surpassing its estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. 

Amoako Boafo is a rising star of the contemporary art world. Unlike Kusama, Boafo has achieved market success largely without the requisite institutional validation that is normally necessary to gain momentum in the art market. This season, the Ghanaian artist’s  works were offered at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Sotheby’s The Now Evening Auction featured  ‘Tonica and Adia’ (2019) with an estimate of $400,00 – $600,000, but soared to $1,071,000. 

At Christie’s, Glenn Ligon works were offered in both the 21st Century Evening Sale and the Post War and Contemporary Day Sale. The artist’s 2012 work, ‘Stranger #57’ is a prime example from his seminal text-based ‘Stranger’ series. It sold for $1.56 million against an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. A few day’s later his 2007 work, ‘No Room (Gold) #47’ also surpassed its high estimate, selling for $176,400. 

Meanwhile, the Abstraction-focused artist Stanley Whitney, continued to see strong demand for his work at auction with paintings by the 76-year-old artist selling for prices significantly above their estimates at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s. His 1992 grid painting  ‘Radical Openness’, sold for $2.3 million at Sotheby’s The Now Evening Auction, well above its high estimate of $800,000.  And his more recent work, ‘Parisian Blue’ (2012), achieved $1.6 million, almost triple its high estimate of $600,000.  its high estimate of $600,000. 

This year’s record-breaking Spring auction season, up 66% from last year’s equivalent sales, is a prime example of the art market’s enduring,  non-correlated nature to short-term shifts in the broader financial markets. Especially when relying on the advice of seasoned art market experts, like Yieldstreet’s Athena Art Finance, to select artists who will ultimately retain their market value in the long-run, investors can take comfort in knowing that art continues to remain a worthy asset class to diversify their investment portfolios. 

This spring, Yieldstreet is proud to be working with The Canvas, the premium art market newsletter, to deliver in-depth analysis surrounding the blue-chip contemporary art market and the marquee May sales in New York. If you’d like to receive more exclusive coverage from The Canvas to get access to the same insightful reporting that the art world’s top collectors rely on to navigate a rapidly shifting art market, we encourage you to join their insider community by subscribing here