A string of record prices for leading names in the Contemporary art market saw the amount of money raised in the latest New York auction series heading back to boom-time levels.
Christie's evening sale set new highs for Rothko, Klein,
Pollock and Richter and made the highest total ever for a sale in
this category. After the auction on May 8 people were left
wondering whether the market was reaching a similar bubble to the
one that collapsed following the fall of Lehman Brothers bank in
Phillips de Pury all staging lucrative sales, the hammer total
for the week was $779.4m (£502.8m). This made for the
highest-grossing Contemporary series since May 2008 and, when added
to the $456.9m (£294.8m) from the Impressionist and Modern art
sales the week before, the overall amount of money changing hands
over the fortnight was the third highest on record, only eclipsed
by the amounts generated in May 2008 and November 2007.
Christie's evening sale raised $343.3m
(£221.5m) hammer which was above the $236-329m presale estimate and
just outscored the previous record for a Contemporary art sale of
$341m (£171m) set in the same rooms five years ago.
There were no fewer than 14 individual
artist records, including highs for a host of key abstract
Of the 59 lots, 56 sold (95%), and the top
price of the night, as expected, came for Mark
Rothko's (1903-1970) oil on canvas Orange, Red, Yellow
from 1961 which sold for $77.5m (£50m) and became the most
expensive post-War work of art ever sold at auction. The previous
record was Francis
Bacon's Triptych (1976) that sold for $77m (£41.4m)
hammer at Sotheby's New York in May 2008 and was reportedly bought
by Roman Abramovich.
The Rothko also set fifth highest
all-time auction price (in terms of pounds sterling).
It came from the collection of the late
clothing manufacturer and art collector David Pincus who died in
November. Estimated at $35m-45m, the bidding rose by million-dollar
increments before it was knocked down to an anonymous phone bidder.
The previous record for Rothko was the $65m (£32.5m) paid at
Sotheby's in May 2007 for the 1950 abstract White Center
(Yellow, Pink, Lavender on Rose).
Indeed, works from the Pincus consignment
provided a large chunk of the sale total as further auction records
came for Jackson Pollock's (1912-1956) Number 28, 1951, a
drip and brushwork oil on canvas, at $20.5m (£13.2m), and Barnett
Newman's (1905-1970) Onement V at $20m (£12.9m). Both
also sold to anonymous phone bidders.
Elsewhere at the sale was Yves Klein's
(1928-1962) dry pigments and synthetic resin on panel FC1 (Fire
Color 1) which sold at another record $32.5m (£20.9m)
against a $30m-40m estimate. The late picture from the year of the
artist's death was billed as 'most important work by Yves Klein
ever to be offered at auction'. Again it sold anonymously.
The record for Richter came for his 1993
Abstraktes Bild (798-3) oil on canvas which sold
above estimate at $19.4m (£12.5m) and continued the market roll for
the German painter seen since the opening of the one-man show at
Sotheby's evening sale the following night made a $235m
(£151.6m) hammer total which was within the $221.6m-311.9m presale
estimate. On the night, 46 out of the 57 lots sold (81%) with a
joint-top lot - Roy Lichtenstein's (1923-1997) Sleeping
Girl and Francis Bacon's (1909-1992) Figure Writing
Reflected In Mirror which both took $40m (£25.8m)
against $30-40m estimates.
The latter, a painting thought to depict
Bacon's lover George Dyer, had featured in the 1977 exhibition at
Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris where it was purchased by the
vendor. It drew half a dozen bidders and was knocked down to a
phone bidder. Meanwhile, Lichtenstein's comic book-style painting
was also fresh to the market having been purchased from the Ferus
Gallery in 1964. The price was a record for the arist at
The trio of evening sales ended on May 10 at
Phillips de Pury where the hammer total was $75.9m (£49m), bang
on the presale low-estimate, with 35 of the 44 lots sold (80%).
Here the top lot was the Jean-Michel
Basquiat painting on wood, Untitled (1981) which sold
for a record $14.5m (£9.35m). The vendor of this guaranteed lot
with an estimate of $9-12m, was Robert Lehrman who had bought it
from the Anina Nosei Gallery in Soho, New York in 1982.
The buyer's premium at Sotheby's, Christie's
and Phillips de Pury is 25/20/12%
Exchange Rate: £1 = $1.55