The evening sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s this week left little doubt about the appetite for, and willingness to spend on, Contemporary art, regardless of how the financial markets may be performing. Tuesday’s sale at Christie’s brought in $248 million for 82 of 91 lots sold, and Sotheby’s auction the following evening realized $316 million against a high estimate of $270 million. Several artists records were set over the two nights, including those for the painters of each sale’s top lot – Clyfford Still and Roy Lichtenstein.
Christie’s had reason to be anxious after their Impressionist and Modern art sale last week, which failed to reach its low estimate by a whopping $70 million. The first 26 lots of the auction house’s marathon sale came from the collection of Peter Norton, who amassed a fortune from selling the software that bears his name. Norton is a highly esteemed collector of Contemporary art and, since 1988, has commissioned one artist a year to create a (limited edition) gift that the entrepreneur gives to a few thousand of his closest friends each year. The provenance helped boost the Norton offerings, which sold 100% by lot and brought in $26.8 million against a high estimate of $16 million. Records for nine artists were set during that portion of the sale alone, including Paul McCarthy, whose Tomato Head led the group and brought in $4.5 million against estimates of $1-1.5 million. Records were also set for Barbara Kruger, Glenn Ligon, Mona Hatoum, Sophie Calle, Charles Ray, Yinka Shonibare, Christian Marclay, and Fred Tomaselli.
Roy Lichtenstein, I Can See the Whole Room!…and There’s Nobody in it!, 1961 (est. $35-45 million, realized $43.2 million), via Christies.com
The Contemporary art evening auction immediately followed the Norton sale and was headlined by a 1961 Roy Lichtenstein that eclipsed the artist’s record set at the equivalent sale at Christie’s last year, when Ohhh…Alright… sold for $42.6 million. I Can See the Whole Room!…and There’s Nobody in it! carried estimates of $35-45 million and fetched $43.2 million.
The Christie’s sale saw strong prices for works by female artists. Louis Bourgeois‘ monumental Spider leapt past its $6 million estimate when it sold for $10.7 million and set the artist’s auction record. The price is amongst the highest ever paid for a work by a woman artist at auction.
The auction record was also set for Andreas Gursky with his placid Rhein II. The $4.3 million paid for the picture also represents the highest sum ever paid for a photograph at auction. Cindy Sherman held the record since last May, when a self portrait sold at Christie’s for $3.9 million.
The Contemporary sale at Sotheby’s on Wednesday evening was boosted by four Clyfford Still paintings. The works were left to the City of Denver by the artist’s widow, who died in 2005. A rare sight on the art market, the paintings were being sold by the city to further the endowment of the new Clyfford Still Museum, which opens in Denver next week. The group contributed $114 million to the sale’s $316 million total and were led by a red and black canvas that sold for $61.6 million – almost twice its high estimate. A later Still, titled PH-1033, sold for $19.9 million reportedly to the same buyer of the $61.6 million work.
Buyers could not get enough of abstract works by Gerhard Richter, whose retrospective is currently on view at Tate Modern in London. A rose colored canvas set the record for the artist when it sold for $20.8 million, or $8 million above its high estimate. Similarly, Gudrun , of 1987 sold for $18 million against a high estimate of $7.5 million.
For those scrambling to find a safe place for their fortunes amid global economic turmoil, this week’s auctions seem to offer a sound bit of advice: Buy art.
Christie’s Norton sale results [Christie’s]
Christie’s evening sale resluts [Christie’s]
Sotheby’s evening sale results [Sotheby’s]
As Stocks Fall, Art Surges At a $315.8 Million Sale [NYT]
Day in the Sun for Postwar and Contemporary Art [NYT]
Sotheby’s Sells Group of Clyfford Still Paintings for $114 Million [WSJ]
Irascibility Pays Off as Clyfford Still Leads Sotheby’s to a White-Hot $316 Million Postwar Art Sale [Artinfo]
Leonardo DiCaprio Watched as Christie’s Stellar $248 Million Contemporary Art Sale Set Record After Record [Artinfo]