Auctions: Contemporary art prices reach the outer limits

The contemporary art auction bubble has not only not burst, but it is almost grotesquely bigger than ever.

May 22, 2007 08:00
2 minute read.
marilyn idol 88 298

marilyn idol 88 298. (photo credit: )


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The contemporary art auction bubble has not only not burst, but it is almost grotesquely bigger than ever. Sales at Sotheby's and Christie's in New York last week racked up a record amount. In just four auction days, which included their Impressionist and Modern Art sales, the two houses sold art for more than $1billion. Sotheby's spring evening sale made auction history, bringing in $254,874,000, the highest total ever for a sale of Contemporary Art. Five bidders competed for Mark Rothko's White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) from the collection of David Rockefeller, which sold for $72.8m. to an anonymous buyer, a new record for a contemporary work of art at auction, as well as for the artist. At least four bidders battled for Francis Bacon's Study from Innocent X, 1962, which brought $52.6m., a record for the artist at auction. Records were also set for works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Rauschenberg, Tom Wesselmann, Richard Prince, Hans Hofmann, Dan Flavin and John Baldessari, among many others. Four lots brought over $10m.; six achieved over $5m. million; and 41 sold for over $1m. Nearly 70% of the lots exceeded their high estimates. The Israel Museum also did well out of the sale. Its early and rather hideous Untitled by the late Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for $14.6m., a record for the artist at auction, to a dealer on behalf of a private collector. It was sold to create the Barbara and Eugene Schwartz Contemporary Art Acquisition Endowment Fund. One of Robert Rauschenberg's Combine Paintings from 1959 brought $10,680,000, a record for the artist at auction, selling to a dealer on behalf of a private collector. Tom Wesselmann's sensuous Smoker #17, 1975, a shaped canvases, sold for $5,864,000 to the Asian trade, a record for the artist at auction. Warhol's Large Campbell's Soup Can of 1964, brought $5,528,000, selling to a private collector, and Lichtenstein's Still Life with Green Vase of 1972, achieved $4,296,000, selling to an American dealer. In addition to its evening sale total, Sotheby's day sale of Contemporary Art commanded $89,698,000, the highest total ever for a day sale of contemporary art. The top-selling lot of the day auction was Frank Stella's Untitled (Black and White Maze), 1966, which brought $2,616,000. AT CHRISTIE'S, results were just as dramatic, when its evening sale set a record total of $384,654,400. Andy Warhol's Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) achieved an astonishing $71,720,000, quadrupling the previous record for the artist, while 26 new world auction records were set, with 65 works selling above $1 million. Seventeen works sold above $5 million and 74% of the works sold above their pre-sale estimate. Buyers were 47% American, 19% European, 18% Asian and 16% other. Warhol's early Lemon Marilyn, expected to sell in excess of $18m., realized $28,040,000. The sale offered ten Warhol paintings that resulted in a combined total of $136,704,000. Two abstractions by Mark Rothko realized $26,920,000 and $22,440,000. Willem de Kooning's rather unresolved Untitled I, painted in 1981 when he was beginning to lose his grip, still realized $19,080,000. The painting Figure 4 by Jasper Johns brought a well-deserved $17,400,000, a new world auction record for the painter.

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