Kehinde Wiley: When an Auction Estimate Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story


Later this week, two works by prominent artist, Kehinde Wiley, will be auctioned. The works are very similar - same size with similar names, design, framing and focal points. But their auction estimates are drastically different.

Christie’s will offer Easter Realness #6 with an estimate of $60,000-80,000, while Sotheby’s lists Easter Realness #7 at a range of $100,000-150,000. That’s a big difference for such similar works. Dig deeper and the estimates are even more perplexing.

Easter Realness #6 sold twice in the last thirteen years. Once in 2006 for $45,000 and again in 2014 for $40,630. Easter Realness #7 was offered in 2013 for $50,000-70,000, but failed to receive a minimum bid. So why the drastic and disproportionate auction estimates now?

Discerning auction estimates is pure conjecture, but an obvious factor is the pronounced growth and an interest in African American art. Last year, the record-breaking sale of Kerry James Marshall's epic work Past Times for $21 million captured the collecting world’s attention. (It was offered with an $8-12 million estimate.)

It's clear the auction houses believe this elevated enthusiasm will translate and buoy these works well beyond their spotty success at past auctions. But will the popularity of the genre translate to these particular works?

One factor that should be considered is the uniquely large size of Easter Realness #6 and #7, which are both nine feet tall and wide. That’s large, and works of that size have often underperformed.

We ran the numbers and as of the date of this posting (02/27/19) ARTBnk’s Real Time Valuation (RTV) for each piece was around $46,000. These valuations are based on data derived from relevant comparable and past performance of the works themselves.



Easter Realness #6, 2004
Oil on canvas, 116 x 116 in



Easter Realness #7, 2004
Oil on canvas, 114.75 x 114.75 in

We expect auction prices to be above our RTV and that the software will recalculate accordingly, after the auction, as it reacts to market realities. It’s important to note that RTV does not forecast current market trends, but rather records them and adjusts RTV as they occur. While we can only speculate about auction estimates, valuation is possible.

We’ll be watching closely as both auctions are just days away. Stay tuned for the results and see for yourself how ARTBnk can help you organize your art collection, alert you to upcoming auction sales, and provide a current valuation for most artwork sold in the secondary market.