Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art evening sale in New York achieved the highest total for such a sale, in auction history, a staggering $495,021,500 (£326,714,190/ €386,116,770) on 15 May. A remarkably strong sell-through rate of 94% by value and by lot helped to propel the sales success. Bidders from around the world competed for an exceptional array of Abstract Expressionist, Pop and Contemporary works from some of the century’s most inspiring and influential artists, including Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein and Jean-Michel Basquiat. The sale featured a range of superlative works from distinguished private collections and institutions, such as the Collection of Celeste and Armand Bartos and the Estate of Andy Williams. The sale established 16 new world auction records, selling 9 works for over $10 million, 23 for over $5 million and 59 for over $1 million.
An important selection of Abstract Expressionist works led the sale, most of all the iconic Number 19, 1948 by Jackson Pollock, which sold for a record high of $58,363,750 (£38,520,075/ €45,523,725), for the artist at auction. Painted during Pollock’s most important period of 1947-1949, this jewel-like work was singled out by Clement Greenberg who declared, “Number Nineteen seemed more than enough to justify the claim that Pollock is one of the major painters of our time.” This picture, which came from a prestigious American foundation, was the object of a fierce bidding battle from collectors in the saleroom and on the telephone. Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black on Maroon) of 1958 is a dazzling example of the artist’s signature color fields, and was painted the year he began his iconic Seagram Murals. Sold for $27,003,750 (£17,822,475/ €21,062,925), the work’s sale demonstrated Rothko’s enduring and consistent value.
Paintings by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol reaffirmed their enduring value this season. Lichtenstein’s 1963 Woman with Flowered Hat, a classic Pop picture from the movement’s heyday, sold for $56,123,750 (£37,041,675/ €43,776,525), while the artist’s 1994 Nude with Yellow Flower, which triumphantly revisits his iconic comic book heroine, sold for $23,643,750 (£15,604,875/ € 18,442,125). Also sought-after was Warhol’s archetypal Self Portrait of 1966, which realized $5,219,750 (£3,445,035/ €4,071,405).
The international demand for works by contemporary artists was extremely strong; especially the highly-anticipated Dustheads by Jean-Michel Basquiat. This euphoric masterpiece captures the expressionist zeitgeist of the 1980s in New York. The price, which skyrocketed to $48,843,750 (£32,236,875/ € 38,098,125) — a new world auction record for the artist — defeated the $26.4 million achieved by Christie’s in November 2012. Another work by Basquiat, Furious man, a work on paper from the Andy Williams Collection, exceeded the artist’s record for the medium when it sold for $5,723,750 (£3,777,675/ € 4,464,525), after lengthy competitive bidding.
Strong prices were realized for works by European master painters, notably Piero Manzoni’s Achrome, an outstanding masterpiece that epitomizes the Italian artist’s best known series. It sold for a world auction record price of $14,123,750 (£9,321,675/ €11,016,525) to a European collector. Gerhard Richter’s vibrant Abstraktes Bild, Dunkel (613-2) also sold well, fetching $21,963,750 (£14,496,075/ €17,131,725), which exceeded its high estimate.
“We are thrilled to announce an extraordinary total of $495 million for this evening’s sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art – the highest total in auction history. The remarkable bidding and record prices set reflect a new era in the art market, wherein seasoned collectors and new bidders compete at the highest level within a global market. Our sale was heavily focused on masterpieces and collections, achieving an astonishing 16 record prices. With Monday’s blockbuster charity sale, The 11th Hour Auction, our sales total exceeds a half a billion, raising $528.3 million,” said Brett Gorvy, Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art.