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.

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

marilyn idol 88 298. (photo credit: )

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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