Christie's Contemporary Art Sale Soars to Record $745 Million, Highest Ever Total

  • May 13, 2014 23:03

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Alexander Calder's (1898-1976), Poisson volant (Flying Fish), a hanging mobile, made in 1957, brought an artist auction record of $25.9 million from a low estimate of $9 million on May 13, 2014, at Christie's New York.

Billionaire buyers wanting Warhol, Basquiat, Rothko, Koons, Newman, Calder, Bacon and other luminaries of postwar and contemporary art sent Christie's evening sale on Tuesday to $745 million (with buyer's premium), a record amount for a single sale. Records were smashed for artists from Barnet Newman to Alexander Calder, with 68 of 72 offered lots selling (98% sold by value). The sale was expected to bring $500 million.

Of note, there were 40 guaranteed lots in the sale, up from 15 a year ago, meaning the sellers were getting an undisclosed amount regardless of the auction action. Bidders competed fiercely for a number of lots, and of the top ten lots, two were bought by Gagosian Gallery and two went to Asian private buyers.

Topping the night was a Barnett Newman (1905-1970), Black Fire I, an oil on canvas from 1961, that brought $84 million.

Although Francis Bacon (1909-1992) did not exceed the world record price for art of $142.4 million that his Lucien Freud triptych made last November, his Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards, depicting his longtime companion in convuluted poses, fetched $80.8 million.

Bidders fought hard for Andy Warhol's “Race Riot, 1964” which went for $62.9 million, exceeding the presale estimate of $45 million.

His 1962 “White Marilyn” of film icon Marilyn Monroe sold for $41 million, far above the $12 million to $18 million estimate.

Mark Rothko's (1903-1970), Untitled, oil on canvas, from 1952, went for $66 million. Another high performer was Alexander Calder's (1898-1976), Poisson volant (Flying Fish), a hanging mobile, made in 1957, which brought an artist auction record of $25.9 million from a low estimate of $9 million.

Global annual sales of postwar and contemporary art increased by 11 percent in 2013, with a highest-ever auction total of $6.7 billion, according to economist Clare McAndrew in her March report for the European Fine Art Foundation.

The previous highest auction total ever achieved was Christie's November 2013 sale that brought $692 million.

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