IF major auctions in New York are anything to go by, then the amount of money being spent on blue-chip pieces of Modern and Contemporary art is now almost back to the level seen before the market crashed 18 months ago.
At last week's Contemporary art sales in the Big Apple,
Sotheby's and Christie's raised a combined hammer total of $462m
(£316) which, when added to the $519m (£355m) seen the week before
at the Impressionist and Modern sales, took the overall figure for
the art market's flagship fortnight to just shy of $1bn.
Last year's equivalent sales, which took place during what now
appears to have been the market's nadir, made under $300m - a
serious drop-off from the boom-time figure of $1.2bn in May
With the latest sales taking place in a volatile financial
climate as the values of stocks, shares and currencies fluctuated
with news of the Greek debt crisis, collectors and investors
clearly viewed art as a good bet for planting their capital, a
trend that also applied to other tangible assets such as gold
After the Impressionist & Modern series saw a record for any
work of art ever sold at auction - Picasso's 1932 Nude, Green
Leaves and Bust, which made $95m (£65.1m) at Christie's (see last
week's ATG) - there was a sense of momentum leading into the
This was duly realised as the evening sales at Christie's on May
11 and Sotheby's on May 12 performed well against their predicted
levels and saw high selling rates.
Christie's made a hammer total of £201.6m (£138.1m) against a
pre-sale estimate of $147m-207m with 74 of the 79 lots finding
This included all 31 works from the estate of writer Michael
Crichton, which all sold and added $81.5m (£55.8m) to the total.
The top lot of the sale came from this collection, which had come
to the market following Crichton's death in 2008 aged 66.
This was the much-publicised Jasper Johns (b. 1930) Flag from
1960-66 that Crichton had bought directly from the artist in
The 171/2in x 2ft 3in (45 x 68cm) encaustic and newspaper
collage laid down on canvas was estimated at $10m-15m and was
knocked down to the Pennsylvania-based dealers the Avery Galleries
at $25.5m (£17.4m). They were thought to be buying for an
unidentified client. This was a new high for the artist at
Sotheby's evening sale the night after made less than
Christie's, but their $166.3m (£113.9m) total was above the
$114m-162m pre-sale estimate.
With 50 of their 53 lots getting away, Sotheby's made the two
highest prices of the Contemporary week as Andy Warhol's (1928-87)
Self Portrait from 1986 made $29m (£19.9m) and Mark Rothko's
(1903-1970) Untitled painting from 1961 took $28m (£19.2m).
Both went above estimate and sold to private collectors on the
Sotheby's Worldwide head of Contemporary art, Tobias Meyer, who
was on the rostrum for the sale, said: "On both of these objects we
saw global bidding from a global community that will seek out
trophies and, once found, will go full throttle."
Significant prices were also seen further down the sale,
including the record $7m (£4.79m) bid at Sotheby's by an anonymous
buyer for Maurizio Cattelan's (b.1960) Untitled. A self-portait
from 2001, with a wax figure of the artist clambering out of a hole
in a gallery floor (real hair included), was one of an edition of
three plus one artist's proof.
Estimated at $3m-4m, it made a significant rise from the $1.8m
(£967,750) seen when it last appeared at auction at Christie's New
York in November 2004.
In addition to this, strong bidding and new buyers were also
reported at the Contemporary art day sales. Christie's achieved a
hammer total of $49.6m (£40m) from their two sessions on May 12
(327 of 382 lots sold), while Sotheby's made $44m (£27.4m) on May
13 (295 of 377 lots sold).
by Alex Capon
£1 = $1.46