After last year’s record-breaking $495 million sale at Christie’s, many were left stunned by the contemporary art market’s unwieldy, perhaps even unsustainable, new proportions. But now Christie’s has trounced that record with last night’s historic $692 million contemporary art sale, an almost unbelievable tally that stands as the highest-ever total for an auction house.
Several artworks toppled records throughout the night—most dramatically Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969, which sold for $142.4 million to beat out Edvard Munch’s The Scream as the most expensive piece of art ever to be sold at auction. Seven bidders battled it out for the angst-ridden triptych of Bacon’s friend and fellow painter, but Acquavella Galleries, it is thought, ultimately prevailed with a total roughly $60 million higher than the artist’s previous record, set by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich at Sotheby's in 2008.
Meanwhile, an unnamed telephone buyer set a new record for a living artist with the purchase of Jeff Koons’s gleaming orange Balloon Dog, which went for $58.4 million, edging above its $55 million high estimate. Before bringing the work to auction last night, the Greenwich-based billionaire Peter Brant had been one of just five elite collectors to own one of Koons’s signature steel puppies. Could a Qatari royal be joining the ranks of Francois Pinault, Eli Broad, Dakis Joannou, and Steve A. Cohen? Speculation is already flying.
New artist records were also set last night for Willem de Kooning ($32 million), Christopher Wool, ($26.5 million), Wade Guyton ($2.4 million), Wayne Thiebaud ($6.3 million), Lucio Fontana ($20.9 million), Donald Judd ($14.2 million), and four others.
Among the other notable sales, a Cindy Sherman "Centerforlds" photograph of a woman in cinematic peril more than doubled its low estimate to fetch $2 million. One of Warhol's gigantic black-and-white Coca-Cola-bottle paintings (there are only four in existence), an iconic—and, if you're from the midwest, literal—Pop masterpiece from 1992, sold for a stunning $57.3 million, just under its $60 million high estimate; later in the evening, one of his splendid hammer-and-sickle paintings reaped $3.5 million. Further down the Pop lineage, a sexy Roy Lichtenstein Ben-day-dotted nude overshot its estimate to take home $31.5 million, and an Ed Ruscha painting of the American flag brought in $4.2 million.
The series of contemporary sales thus far at Phillips and Christie's have been a dizzyingly potent remedy to the bleak Impressionist and Modern sales last week, which failed to generate some much-needed enthusiasm in the category. Tomorrow night, Sotheby's will round out the New York sales with its season-closing finale.
Art Market: Phillips Kicks Off Auction Week With a Pop-Powered Sale