More records fall in record NY art sales
How much bigger can the numbers get? This was the multimillion
dollar question being posed by the latest round of record-smashing
sales of Contemporary art in New York.
Last week Sotheby's and Christie's took an unprecedented combined
premium-inclusive total of $823m at their Contemporary art
auctions, $200m more than the previous week's Impressionist &
Modern sales. Contemporary art is now firmly established as the
dominant force in the great 21st century global art boom.
The $385m (£192.5m) total achieved at Christie's Part I
Contemporary sale on May 16 was a record for the category, beating
the previous high of $256m (£128m) set the previous evening at
Christie's total also represented the second most expensive
auction in history after their own landmark $491.5m 'Bloch-Bauer'
Impressionist and Modern sale in November. Sixty-five of the 78
works in Christie's evening Contemporary auction fetched over $1m
and only four failed to sell.
With roubles now appearing for the first time on Sotheby's
currency convertors, the auctioneers were keen to stress the global
diversity of the buyers. At Christie's over half the lots were sold
to non-Americans with 19% going to Europe, 18% to Asia and 16% to
'other' (which includes the Middle East).
The scale of the financial stakes now involved in the ruthlessly
competitive market for contemporary art were dramatically
highlighted by the record $65m (£32.5m) paid at Sotheby's by a
mysterious 'bearded man in a skybox' for Mark Rothko's monumental
1950 abstract, White Center (Yellow, Pink, Lavender on Rose). The
price was a record for any Contemporary work of art sold at
Sotheby's were rumoured to have given the vendor David Rockefeller
a guarantee of $46m, plus a sizeable chunk (if not all) of the
buyer's premium. Sotheby's main income from the sale would have
been a share of the $19m 'upside' between the guarantee and the
final price of $65m.
Another significant result at Sotheby's was the $47m (£23.5m) paid
by an anoymous telephone buyer for Francis Bacon's 1962 Study for
Innocent X, almost doubling the previous record of £12.5m for the
artist set in February in London.
Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst were among no fewer than 26 artists
to reach new highs at Christie's the following evening. Warhol's
grisly but iconic 1963 Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) became
the second most expensive Contemporary work of art ever sold at
auction when it was knocked down to an Asian telephone bidder at a
colossal double-estimate $64m (£32m).
Damien Hirst's 6ft high 'pill cabinet' piece, Lullaby Winter,
dating from 2002, also almost doubled its upper estimate when it
sold for $6.6m (£3.3m).
Perhaps most remarkably, both houses' 'secondary' daytime sales
took around $90m each.
"Money has no meaning…the whole marketplace is crazy," New York
dealer Angela Westwater of Sperone Westwater told reporters at
Seasoned observers of the Contemporary market might find current
prices crazy. But as values continue to rise, and more of the
world's multimillionaires, billionaires and fund managers view art
as a lucrative alternative asset class, prepare for even more
By Scott Reyburn
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