Christie’s Auctioneer, Christopher Burge, about to hit the hammer at $75.5 million ($86,882,500 with buyer’s premium) for Rothko’s Orange, Red, Yellow. All photographs on site for Art Observed by Aubrey Roemer unless otherwise noted.
“We kinda broke the bank,” said Christie’s Chairman and International Head, Brett Gorvy, last night in a press conference, held after Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale. The total sales for the evening were $388,488,000—a record for the house, making it their most valuable auction to date. Eclipsing their former record by $4 million for a sale in May of 2007, their grand total soared nearly $150 million over their anticipated estimates.
The sale last night was pre-recession caliber with prices reaching staggering heights and 14 world auction records for individual artists smashed, and for one artist, Alexander Calder, twice within the sale. From the beginning it was apparent that collectors were looking to spend. Three of the first four lots sold set new records for the artists’ work, and the remaining lot still sold double the high estimate. These results coupled with last week’s monumental sale of Edvard Munch‘s The Scream for $120 million indicate that the art market is beyond thriving.
The most expensive artwork sold at the auction was Mark Rothko‘s Orange, Red, Yellow for $86,882,500—a price that skyrocketed above its anticipated high estimate of $45 million. This is a world auction record for any Contemporary Art ever to be sold at auction, as well as a record for the artist, whose former record was $72.8 million. In discussing his conversation with the winning bidder, Brett Gorvy divulged that he had said, “You won’t see a painting like this [at auction] for another 20–25 years.” It was a quick climb to $56 million for this painting, and then bidding jumped erratically to $60 million, ushering gasps from the crowd. From there, it continued to climb to the unforeseen hammer price of $77.5 million—receiving applause from the audience as the hammer struck. Gorvy remarked it was a “battle of the giants up till the final price.”
Although not the most expensive, but among the most notable sales were Alexander Calder’s Lily of Force and Snow Flurry, which consecutively broke two world auction records for the artist. Snow Flurry was the first to sell for $10 million, over double the high estimate of $4.5 million, shattering the artist’s former record of $6.3 million. Shortly thereafter, Lily of Force, estimated at a high of $12 million, sold for $18.5 million. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Kelly Crow, she mentioned that Calder’s grandson stated that he had not seen a work of this caliber come to market in some time. Brett Gorvy commented that given the way the Calders had been installed in Christie’s galleries had made it clear that they were masterpieces to potential buyers.
Jackson Pollock, Number 28, 1951 (1951). Image courtesy of Christie’s.
The second most expensive artwork sold at $36.4 million was Yves Klein‘s FC1 (Fire Color 1). Additionally this broke the artist’s former record of $23.5 million at auction. Gorvy remarked, “The market is responding to rarity,” based on so many Contemporary Masters’ works fetching record breaking prices. The third highest price tag was for Jackson Pollock‘s Number 28, 1951, which obtained a world record for the artist by garnering $23 million. This was within in its estimate of $20–30 million, but well above its former record of $11.6 million. Barnett Newman‘s Onement V went for $22.4 million, over double the low estimate of $10 million and four times the artist’s former record for $5.1 million. Another Contemporary Master in the top ten highest sales was Willem de Kooning‘s painting from 1980, Untitled I, which achieved $14 million against its high estimate of $12 million. Additionally, Josef Albers broke his previous auction record with his painting Homage to the Square: Distant Alarm, and Clyfford Still‘s Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R) was the tenth highest selling item at auction.
With two paintings in the top ten highest sales, Gerhard Richter continued to exhibit his staying power in the market. His painting Abstraktes Bild (798-3) sold for $21.8 million, above the estimated $14–18 million. This also broke his previous record of $20.8 million at auction. An earlier work of his, Seestüeck (Leicht bewöelkt) boasted $19 million, over $4 million more than the high estimate of $15 million.
There was a strong showing in the salesroom for younger Contemporary artists as well. Jeff Wall‘s Dead Troops Talk obtained $3.6 million against its estimate of $1.5–2 million, setting a new world auction record for the artist. Similarly, Sherrie Levine‘s Fountain surpassed the former world record at auction of $713,000 and sold for $962,500, nearly triple the high estimate of $350,000. Other contemporary artists who also saw their work exceed the high estimate and break their auction record include Urs Fischer and Vija Celmins.
According to Gorvy, there was strong American bidding, European and Asian buyers made a showing, as well as new and established collectors alike buying. Contemporary Sales continue throughout the week at the other main auction houses, Sotheby’s and Phillips de Pury.
Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale [Christie's]
Record Rothko Headlines at Christie’s [Wall Street Journal]
Rothko Leads a Record Contemporary Art Sale [New York Times]
Record Sales for a Rothko and Other Art at Christie’s [New York Times]
Prices soar, records tumble at Christie’s post-war auction [Reuters]
Rothko, Richter Set Records in $389 Million Auction [Bloomberg]
Mark Rothko painting sets post-war auction record [Telegraph]