Christie’s contemporary evening sale made history last night in grand style, storming through its 72 lots to realize a world record $495 Million sales total that included new auction records for Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and 13 other artists, aided auction house’s impressively assembled catalog. Hailing a “new era in the art market,” according to auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen, the show achieved an almost unheard of sell-through rate of 94%, with only four works failing to find buyers. The sale also continues Christie’s growing dominance in the auction market, eclipsing the previous night’s sale at Sotheby’s with little difficulty.
As expected, Basquiat’s Dustheads shattered the record for the artist at auction, quickly overcoming the previous record of $26.4 million to settle at a final price of $48.8 million, nearly doubling estimates. Lichtenstein’s Woman with Flowered Hat also exceeded all expectations, soaring past its $32 million high estimate to realize a final price of $56.1 million for collector Ronald Perelman, purchased by British jeweler Laurence Graff. But it was Pollock’s Number 19, 1948 that took home the top sale honors of the night, selling for the final price of $58.3 million, a staggering jump from its last auction price of $2.4 million in 1993.
Auction records were also set for a number of other artists, including Joseph Cornell ($4.8 million), Hans Hofmann ($4.8 million), Piero Manzoni ($14.1 million), Philip Guston ($25.8 million), Richard Serra ($4.2 million), Luc Tuymans ($2.7 million) and Julie Mehretu, whose $4.6 million sale of Retopistics indicates her entry into the small circle high-selling female artists, and bodes well for her current shows at both White Cube in London and Marian Goodman in New York.
Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait was one of the few works that did not sell, continuing a difficult week for the artist at auction. His heavily featured Study for Portrait of P.L. failed to sell the night before at Sotheby’s, perhaps suffering from its high price tag. It was joined by Jeff Koons’s Plate Set, Clyfford Still’s PH-1,and Franz Kline’s Accent Aigu in the small group of works unable to charm a buyer, despite the works’ prominent places in the auction catalog.
Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait (1981), via Christie’s
With the newly minted world auction record set at $495 million, it should be noted that this record surpasses a previous record set by an Impressionist and Modern auction at Christies’s, continuing the trend towards increasing emphasis on contemporary art in the global marketplace. A number of collectors spending on these works are new to the art market, and offer an interesting look into the willingness of new collectors to spend high numbers on auction night. As Larry Gagosian himself was quoted as he exited the auciton: “It shows you how deep the art market has become—deep, as in deep pockets.”