USA: The gloom created by disappointing results at this month’s Impressionist and Modern sales in New York was swept away last week by the strong performance of contemporary art at the three main auction houses and reports of good business being done by a number of dealers at The International Fine Art Fair.
A definitive moment was created at Sotheby’s on the evening of May 15 when Jeff Koons’ kitsch porcelain sculpture Michael Jackson and Bubbles set a new record for the artist – and possibly for any Western ceramic sold at auction – when it sold to a US collector on the telephone for $5.1m (£3.6m) against an estimate of $3-4m.
A few minutes later a new high was also achieved for Gerhard Richter, whose photo-inspired oil of three candles, Drei Kerzen, took $4.9m (£3.4m) from a European collector, while a US private paid the evening’s top price of $7.25m (£5.1m) for Jackson Pollock’s pioneering 1951 drip painting, Black and White/Number 6. Sotheby’s Part I Contemporary sale generated a premium-inclusive $45.3m (£31.9m) with 76 per cent of the lots finding buyers.
The record-breaking mood was maintained at Christie’s on May 17 when an astounding $9m (£6.3m) given for Bruce Nauman’s unique wax over plaster piece, Henry Moore Bound to Fail (back view) was one of 10 lots to reach new price levels for contemporary artists. Christie’s Contemporary sale netted $22.6m (£15.9m) and their Post-War sale, held the previous evening, raised $41.2m (£29m) with both events enjoying lottage selling rates of over 80 per cent.
Phillips also enjoyed some success with contemporary art in New York. Their May 14 Part I sale enjoyed a selling rate of 82 per cent by lot and included a record $330,000 (£231,000) for Rachel Whiteread’s mattress sculpture, Untitled (Convex), but the final premium-inclusive total of $16.4m (£11.5m) came in $2.4m under estimate.
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