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I have been waiting for years for the bottom to drop out of an over-inflated contemporary art market, but an influx of new wealth and competition for the really good pieces keeps the market setting records. Christie's May 9 evening sale of post-war and contemporary art in New York raised $143m., the second highest total in this field. In this sale a group of boring works by Donald Judd, sold by the Judd Foundation to establish an endowment, totaled $24,468,800.
The sale was 91% sold by lot and 88% by value. The highlight of the evening was Andy Warhol's 1962 Small Torn Campbell Soup Can (Pepper Pot), from the collection of Irving Blum, which sold for $11,776,000.
Willem De Kooning's amorphous Untitled, 1961, went for $10,096,000. Away from the Flock, Divided, 1995, one of only a handful of split animal formaldehyde works by Damien Hirst from the mid 1990s, fetched $3,376,000, and established a new world auction record for the artist. David Hockney, another Brit, also performed strongly when his charming 1967 painting A Neat Lawn set a new world auction record at $3.6m.
The following day, Sotheby's had an equally astonishing success with only 66 lots, most of which sold for a total of $128m. A wild and madly unorganized De Kooning soared to nearly $15.7m., while Roy Lichtenstein's deliberately banal Setting Sun, a large landscape without figures, did very well at $15.69m., though Sotheby's had hoped for more. A huge well-known photograph of a supermarket by Andreas Gursky, well contested, went for an astonishing $2.25m.
One can understand the competition for famous - and original - masters, some no longer with us. But what amazes me is the bidding for works of very little artistic value that bolstered these sales. The bidders seemed to have swallowed everything written about the works in the last decade or so by promoters, who have carved a niche for each of them in the hall of instant art history.
It can't last. Or can it?
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