Christie’s, 12 November: best auction total ever recorded!



November 12, 2013 will go down in auction history. Christie’s prestige sale of Post-War and Contemporary art already posted an unusual ambition before the auction took place, with an overall estimate exceeding $500 million … a figure far beyond any previous sales total. The final result of $609 million excluding fees ($691m including fees) justified their optimism and once again demonstrated the power of the high end of the Contemporary art market, a sector that has never been so competitive and speculative. The previous sales record in the Contemporary art field was also set by Christie’s (on 15 May 2013) at $435 million excluding fees. With $609 million on 12 November, Christie’s has generated the best auction sale total of all time.

Epicentre of the high-end market, New York is able to adjudicate, in a single evening and only 63 lots, a sales total equivalent to the combined total revenue over the first 10 months of 2013 of France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, which are respectively 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th in the ranking of countries by total auction revenue on the global art market.

The bidders registered on November 12 – from 42 different countries – acquired 91% of the lots offered, expressing an extraordinary appetite for the key signatures of the 20th century, including for small works such as Roy Lichtenstein’s Sleeping Girl (study, 1964, measuring 14.6 cm x 14.6 cm) which fetched no less than $2 million ($2,405 million incl. fees).

Francis Bacon replaces Edvard Munch at the top…

The British painter, Francis Bacon’s 1969 triptych entitled Three Studies of Lucian Freud, was the star attraction of the New York sale. Presented with a world record price estimate, it did not take long to reach its target, with the world’s biggest buyers clearly inspired by the importance of the work: no less than 60 telephones were mobilized during the bidding, with bids initially moving up by $5m and then $1m until the hammer fell at $127 million five minutes later. The three studies of Lucian Freud – finally reunited – were acquired by the New York gallery Acquavella on behalf of a client whose identity and nationality were not disclosed by Christie’s. This discreet buyer paid a total, including fees, of $142.405 million.

To become the world’s most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, Bacon’s triptych added $50 million to his previous personal auction record (set in May 2008 for a 1976 triptych which fetched $77 million at Sotheby’s) and added $20 million to the previous world auction record of $107 million ($119.9 m including fees) for a version of Edvard Munch’s famous The Scream in May 2012 at Sotheby’s New York.

The historical success of Christie’s November 12 sale was not exclusively based on Francis Bacon’s famous triptych. The sale generated no less than nine other records! Jeff Koons become the most expensive living artist in the world, and there were personal records for Christopher Wool, Lucio Fontana, Donald Judd, Wade Guyton, Vija Celmins, Ad Reinhardt, Willem de Kooning and Wayne Thiebaud.

The best results of 12 November
In addition to the $142.4 million paid for the work by Francis Bacon, Christies sold two other lots above the $50 million threshold (Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol), 16 lots above $10 million and 56 above $1 million.

Jeff KOONS signed a new world record for a living artist (deposing Gerhard Richter) with a Balloon Dog (Orange) that fetched $52 million ($58.405m incl. fees). This record dwarfs his previous record signed a year earlier for Tulips of $22 million (Christie’s New York, 14 November 2012). For context, $22 million represents approximately the combined annual turnover from Contemporary art in Taiwan and Germany. The monumental Balloon Dog (307.3 x 363.2 x 114.3 cm) available in five colours (blue, magenta, orange, red and yellow) is the most popular creation by Jeff Koons. This orange version from the Peter Brant collection (Brant is known to possess the largest private collection of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol) represents a generous financial contribution to the projects funded by the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Greenwich, CT.

Andy WARHOL: his Pop icon, Coca Cola (1962) fetched $51 million and was thus – for a few hours – his third best-ever result before being relegated to fourth place by a new personal auction record signed the next day at Sotheby’s.

Mark ROTHKO: The orange vibrations of No. 11 ( Untitled) (1957) spurred the bidding to $41 million ($6  million above the high estimate), the fifth best auction result for the artist, whose price index shows an increase of nearly 140% over the decade.

Jackson POLLOCK: his 1949 dripping, Number 16, fetched $29 million ($32.645m incl. fees), the artist’s third best-ever auction result.

Willem DE KOONING: Untitled VIII added $4.3 million to his previous record. The 1977 canvas stopped at $28.5 million (more than $32m incl. fees).

Roy LICHTENSTEIN: Seductive Girl (1996) reached its high estimate of $28 million, the fifth best result ever hammered for the artist whose previous record dates back only to 15 May 2013 ($50 million for Woman with Flowered Hat (1963), Christie’s New York).

Jean-Michel BASQUIAT: continued his price momentum, adding a further 8-figure result to an annual turnover that is already his best annual total ever recorded. Untitled (1982) fetched $26 million ($29.285m incl. fees), his second best-ever auction result.

Christopher WOOL, whose price index has rocketed by 1,300% since 2003, set a new auction record when Apocalypse Now fetched $ 23.5 million ($26.485m incl. fees) dwarfing his previous record by more than $16 million! This result made him the third living artists to cross the of $20 million threshold (after Jeff Koons and Gerhard Richter).

Lucio FONTANA: Concetto spaziale, Fine di Dio (1963) set a new record for the artist at $18.5 million ($20.885m incl. fees). His previous three records dated from 2008.

November 13: Sotheby’s held its best ever Contemporary art sale
The following day, Sotheby’s generated a total of $380.6 million (excluding fees), a record in the field of Post-World art for the American multi-national auction company, and the 7th best total in the history of Post-War sales (Christie’s holds the records for the six best totals).
The highlight of the evening was a new personal auction record for Andy Warhol, with Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) (1963) fetching $94 million ($105.445m incl. fees) … $30 million above his previous record (Green Car Crash ( Green Burning Car I) (1963) which fetched $64 million on 16 May 2007 at Christie’s New York. This result is the world’s fourth best auction result of all time behind Francis Bacon, Edvard Munch and Pablo Picasso.

Some examples of auction re-sales revealed the continuing dynamism of the art market’s high-end:

Joan Mitchell’s, Atlantic side fetched $6 million after $4.5 million in 2007; Barnett Newman’s Genesis sold for $3.1 million after $17,000 in 1977; Andy Warhol’s The Statue of Liberty fetched $2.7 million after $457,000 in 1999; Roy Lichtenstein’s Stretcher Frame was acquired for $3.7 million on November 13 after $1.4 million in 2003, and one of Gerhard Richter’s Abstract Bild went for $2.3 million after $60,000 in 1992.