There was no slowing down in the Contemporary art market as the latest sales in New York posted a record for any auction series.
As ATG went to press, $1.57bn (£975m) of art, including premium,
had changed hands during the week. This compared to the previous
record high of $1.34bn (£874.1m) for the Contemporary art series in
November - and there was still one sale to go before the series
It now begs the question: how much longer can this boom keep
Christie's set a record for any auction with a $745m (£462.7m)
premium-inclusive total at their evening sale of Post-War and
Contemporary art in the Big Apple on May 13. Added to the sum
raised the previous night at their If I Live I'll See You
Tuesday auction - a specialist sale aimed at the darker
side of Contemporary art - the combined figure came to $880m
(£546.6m), with 98% sold by value and 95% by lot.
Christie's reported bidders from 35 countries who together
helped set 26 new artist records across the two sales.
Guarantees at the main evening sales were back in force,
covering 39 of Christie's 72 lots - 33 of them guaranteed by the
auctioneers themselves, the other six by third parties. A symbol in
the catalogue denoted Christie's had a direct ownership interest in
another lot on offer.
The guaranteed lots included the works from two lucrative
collections: the 14 lots from the collection of Chicago couple
Edwin and Lindy Bergman, and the ten works from the Frances R.
However, the top lot of the sale - and the series - came from a
different source and was not guaranteed. This was Barnett Newman's
abstract Black Fire I which doubled the previous
record for the artist, selling at $75m (£46.6m) hammer and knocked
down to an unnamed buyer on the phone.
The result put Newman's work at number nine in the top ten
prices ever achieved at auction in sterling terms, pushing
out the last remaining Old Master, Rubens'
Massacre of the Innocents, which took £45m (then $68.4m) at
Sotheby's in London in July 2002.
Also at Christie's, Francis Bacon's Three Studies for a
Portrait of John Edwards took $72m (£44.7m) hammer,
selling to an Asian private buyer, while works by Mark Rothko and
Andy Warhol made $59m and $56m respectively (the latter knocked
down to the Gagosian Gallery).
The broad strength of Christie's sale suggested not only that
they had agreed to attractive terms with vendors in order to win
consignments, but also that they had benefitted from the recent
turbulence at rivals Sotheby's, which has seen the departure of
Contemporary art department head Tobias Meyer and public criticism
of the board by their largest shareholder
Sotheby's evening sale the following night made a total which
was less than half of Christie's figure. Here the 79-lot sale had
39 lots guaranteed by the auctioneers and third parties.
With Mr Loeb present in the room, the sale posted a
premium-inclusive total of $364m (£226m), with 67 lots (85%)
The evening sale got off to a strong start, with the 19 works
from the collection of former hedge-fund manager Adam Sender all
getting away for a total in excess of their combined
$21.1m-29.9m estimate, but elsewhere a number of the lots had
trouble pushing beyond their guaranteed levels.
How the wider market viewed the sale's performance can only be
guessed at, but the following day Sotheby's share price fell
Top lot on the night was Andy Warhol's Six
Self-Portraits, knocked down at $26.75m (£16.6m) to a European
private buyer. Estimated at $25m-35m, it had been acquired from the
Anthony d'Offay gallery in July 1986.
Selling towards the lower end of a $25m-35m estimate was
Gerhard Richter's oil on canvas Blau,
which got away at $25.5m (£15.8m) to a telephone buyer, while a
stainless steel sculpture of Popeye by Jeff Koons
was bought by Steve Wynn at £25m (£15.5m). Offered with an
unpublished estimate, it will now go on view Wynn's Las Vegas
Meanwhile, topping the Contemporary art evening sale at Phillips was a
Mark Rothko abstract Untitled (Red, Blue,
Orange) from 1955 which sold at $50m (£31.1m). Overall,
the sale total including premium was $131.8m (£81.8m).
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