The Contemporary art market rose to a new level last week as both Sotheby’s and Christie’s saw record sales in New York.
It proved to be the most lucrative auction
series in history. With Phillips de Pury's sales added, the
overall total for the week was $894.4m (£584.6m).
When added to the $388.2m (£253.7m) from the Impressionist and
Modern art sales the week before, the overall amount of money
changing hands over the fortnight was a mammoth $1.28bn (£838.3m) -
a figure only eclipsed by the sums generated by the flagship
auction fortnights in the Big Apple in May 2008 ($1.41bn) and
November 2007 ($1.3bn).
The swelling marketplace is generally
attributed to a growing band of trophy hunters from a wider spread
of countries. But the trickle-down effect saw strong performances
among the day sales of lesser works, as those with slightly slimmer
wallets also got in on the action as well.
This rise in demand among the super rich for
Contemporary art, as opposed to any earlier works, puts it squarely
in the sights of those seeking out alternative assets from the
sector seen as having the greatest investment potential.
flatter performance of the Impressionist and Modern auction series
the week before underscores this trend.
The higher sums bid during this latest
Contemporary art series also appear to reflect the belief that
auction prices for certain artists such as Jackson Pollock and
Franz Kline have been running behind those paid in private deals
over the last few years.
Sotheby's evening sale of Contemporary art on
November 13 generated a hammer total of $331.2m (£216.5m), which
was the highest for any auction in the company's history, beating
the previous house record of $321m (£172m) set by their
Contemporary art sale in May 2008.
This figure however, was surpassed the
following night when Christie's November 14 evening sale achieved
the highest total for any Contemporary art auction.
Generating $363.53m (£237.6m) hammer, it was
the third most valuable sale ever in any category - only the famous
which made $437.7m (£241.3m) hammer at Christie's New York in
November 2006, and the firm's sale of the Yves Saint
Laurent-Pierre Bergé collection, which made a premium-inclusive
€373.9m (£332.8m/$483.8m) in Paris in February 2009, have posted
At their evening sale last week, Christie's
saw no fewer than nine lots knocked down for over $10m as a string
of major prices came for some of the biggest names in the
As always at these sales, Andy
Warhol loomed large. Here, his Statue of Liberty
silkscreen was the top lot, selling to an anonymous phone bidder at
$39m (£25.5m), and his 1966 silkscreen portrait of Marlon Brando
took $21.1m (£13.8m), also knocked down to an anonymous buyer.
The latter had previously sold for $4.5m
(£2.81m) at Christie's New York in May 2003, when it was bought by
New York businessman Donald L. Bryant Jr, who was the vendor here.
The more-than-four-fold increase demonstrated the huge growth in
the market in the last nine years and shows how quickly the
Contemporary sector has bounced back from the major downturn in
2008 and 2009.
Among the eight artist records set at the
sale were new auction highs for Jeff Koons at $30m
(£19.6m) and Jean-Michel Basquiat at $23.5m
Also attracting hefty competition at
Christie's was a Franz Kline abstract which took
more than four times the previous record for the artist, which had
been achieved only 24 hours earlier at Sotheby's. The untitled work
from 1957 was deemed the most important example of his energetic
black-and-white canvases to have appeared at auction for a
It was estimated at $20m-30m, and the vendor
had been issued with a guarantee by the auctioneers. Drawing
multiple bidders at the sale, it sold at $36m (£23.5m) after a
five-minute competition, again to an anonymous telephone
Rothko at Sotheby's
Meanwhile, Sotheby's evening sale on
November 13 saw seven lots make over $10m (£6.56m), as American
abstract art, in particular, fuelled unprecedented levels of
bidding. These included the top lot of the sale, Mark
Rothko's No.1 (Royal Red and Blue), which sold to
a phone buyer for $67m (£43.8m) against a $35m-50m estimate. Only
Red, Yellow, which took $77.5m (£50m) at Christie's New York
in May, has made more for the artist at auction.
The latest Rothko also took ninth place in
the top ten lots ever sold at auction.
The work itself was over 9ft (2.74m) high
and was one of eight oils on canvas from 1954 selected for Rothko's
landmark solo show at the Art Institute of Chicago in the same
Eight lots from the collection of Milwaukee
couple Sidney and Dorothy Kohl added $89.9m (£58.8m) to Sotheby's
total. The consignment included Jackson
Pollock's Number 4, 1951, a trademark drip
painting on canvas. Estimated at $25m-35m, it was subject to an
'irrevocable bid' before the auction, meaning it was always going
to sell. On the night, however, a number of bidders took it past
its low estimate and it also sold to a phone buyer at $36m
This was an auction record for the artist,
although works by Pollock have changed hands privately for
From the same source was Willem de
Kooning's Abstraction from c.1949, which took
$17.5m (£11.4m), also selling on the phone, and Clyfford
Still's 1948-H, which sold to an American private
buyer below estimate at $8.75m (£5.72m).
From a separate source was one of
Francis Bacon's screaming pope paintings, which
had been in the same private collection since 1975. Dating from
c.1954, it was one of the earlier versions of the artist's 45 works
relating to Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent
Estimated at £18m-25m, it attracted four
bidders before being knocked down to a phone buyer at $26.5m
(£17.3m). Only one other version has made more, a 1962 study
that sold for $47m (£23.5m) in the same rooms in May 2007.
£1 = $1.53