Between the art fairs and auctions May saw a blaze of heat generated in the market, with artists seeing records sales lift them to remarkable new visibility—and buyers spending untold sums on the most in-demad work. Sales were brisk, by all accounts, at the sophomore Frieze New York art fair, as well as a handful of satellite fairs, such as Cutlog, NADA, and Pulse. Chelsea also saw vigorous commerce, with high-profile shows selling out and making headlines.
But the buzziest news came out of the auction world, which held its most important contemporary art auctions of the year thus far, and this month was more successful than ever. Christie's held its biggest art auction in history, and Leonardo DiCaprio's "11th Hour" charity event at that auction house raised $38 million to benefit wildlife conservation efforts—and set new records for 13 artists. (Or, it at least inflated them; while records set at benefit auctions "count," sellers are known to overbid at these events.)
Here, in our latest Heat Index, are some of May's art-market highlights:
THE FAIR CIRCUIT
— Few passed by Luhring Augustine's dedicated Tom Friedman booth at Frieze without snapping a picture of the artist's waggish, painted-styrofoam blowups of junk food, which apparently enticed buyers too. A slice of white bread went for $110,000, as did a trio of Hostess desserts, while a pizza sold for $275,000. Even a tiny pea—mounted unprepossessingly in the middle of a large white wall—went for $35,000, and a fly for $85,000.
— Paris's Thaddeus Ropac gallery brought home a number of big sales at Frieze, including Alex Katz's oversize painting of tulips at night for $600,000 and a portrait of a brunette woman for $350,000. A charcoal on paper abstraction by Robert Longo—who appears overdue for a comeback, and who also supplied the cover lot for DiCaprio's sale—went for $330,000 at the booth.
— It took him 65 years, but Rafael Leonardo Black is finally making his solo debut in New York, at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, and he's doing it with a bang. "People come in and just go crazy," a gallery rep said of the black-and-white drawings, which pay tribute to modern artists and icons of pop culture. Apparently they're selling like hotcakes for $16,000-$20,000 apiece.
— As a complement to his Street video currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, James Nares's "Road Paint" show at Paul Kasmin has sold several of the artist's black canvases streaked with luminescent white paint—poured from a highway lane striper—for $185,000 each.
— Nearly all of Canadian painter Kim Dorland's haunting scenes of woodlands, lakes, and other places someone might dump a body have apparently sold at Mike Weiss Gallery for around $25,000 a pop.
AT THE AUCTIONS
— Gagosian artist Dan Colen, whose new series of Fantasia-inspired paintings packed an opening at Oko gallery recently, had his record raised at Christie's "11th Hour" auction with the $714,000 sale of a canvas chaotically rubbed with flower petals into Pollock-esque oblivion.
— Sterling Ruby's secondary market got a boost when one of his blurred spray-paint canvases sold at the DiCaprio sale for $1.8 million—about $1 million higher than the artist's previous record, and probably ten times more than it would have fetched on the primary market. (Similar canvases currently on view at Joseph Nahmad's survey of Ruby paintings, on the other hand, may not yield such profitable results thanks to the family's ongoing money-laundering investigation.)
— Ethiopian-born, New York-based artist Julie Mehretu set a new $3.1 million artist record at Sotheby's Doha in late April—promptly to have it dwarfed at Christie's contemporary-art blowout with the sale of a much nicer, larger, and even more fiercely complex architectural painting for $4.6 million.
— At Phillips's day sale a small Dana Schutz painting of a sneezing girl eclipsed its $35,000 estimate to rake in $245,000, while at the evening event a painting of a dead zebra estimated at about $250,000 went for $365,000.
— 1970s star Lynda Benglis topped her auction record at Sotheby's contemporary day sale on May 15 with a twisted gold-leaf wall sculpture that more than tripled its presale estimate at $173,000, while a black metal orchid doubled its estimate at the same event for $137,000.
— Barnett Newman soared into the Ab-Ex fraternity's haut mond last week with the record-breaking $43.8 million sale of his kingly, eye-seeringly blue "zip" canvas at Sotheby's, possibly bought on behalf of Miuccia Prada.