A new record for Post-War & Contemporary Art sales has been set.If we just take Christie’s and Sotheby’s prestige sales of 8 and 9 May 2012, the 102 masterpieces sold generated roughly $578.3 million in revenue and 18 new artist’s records. This is the best result in the history of Contemporary art sales, outperforming the previous high of November 2007 ($565 million for Christie’s and Sotheby’s Post-War & Contemporary Art evening sales). It was also a historic sale for Christie’s which recorded its best-ever result for this type of sale at $343.29 million from 56 lots (only 3 out of 59 lots remained unsold!) and 12 new artist’s records including one for Mark ROTHKO at $77.55m!
Indeed, of all the new records set, Mark Rothko’s is by far the strongest. After an intense battle between four telephone bidders that lasted seven minutes, his vibrant and bright Orange, Red, Yellow fetched $77.55m, making him the most expensive painter in the Post-War period.
Rothko first crosses the $10 million threshold in 1999 with a Color Field Painting vibrant with yellow, red : No.15. Nine years later (May 2008 at Christie’s), the same work sold for $45 million, illustrating Rothko’s extraordinary market accretion. Meanwhile, in 2007 he generated the best-ever result for Post-war artwork and the best result of the year with his White Center, which fetched $65 million on 15 May at Sotheby’s. In short, his pictures of “living energy” seduce an ever-wider public and have led the artist into the same price territory as Pablo PICASSO.
The other records set at Christie’s on 8 May were for Alexander CALDER (Lily of Force, $16.5m), Gerhard RICHTER (Abstraktes Bild (798-3), $19.4m), Barnett NEWMAN (Onement V, $20m), Jackson POLLOCK (Number 28, $20.5 m), Yves KLEIN (FC1 (Fire Color 1)), $32.5m), Jeff WALL (Dead Troops Talk (A Vision after an Ambush of a Red Army Patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, Winter 1986, $3.2m), Josef ALBERS (Homage to the Square: Distant Alarm, $1.7m), Vija CELMINS (drawing Untitled #8, $950,000), Sherrie LEVINE (Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp), $800,000), Romare Howard BEARDEN (Strange Morning, Interior, $280,000) and Nan GOLDIN (Ballad Triptych, $180,000). We note the marked success of American Abstract Expressionists, but also the records for four living artists (Nan Goldin, Jeff Wall, Sherrie Levine, Gerhard Richter) and two new records for photography (Nan Goldin and Jeff Wall).
The next day (9 May), Sotheby’s correctly relied on Pop art’s stars Andy WARHOL & Roy LICHTENSTEIN to ensure part of the success of its sale. The two highest-priced Post-War artists on the market generated $83.2m from four lots… more than a third of the sale’s total revenue.
Roy Lichtenstein’s young blond woman asleep, Sleeping girl (1964) (1964), from the sexy comic books series, was coveted by buyers from all over the world with telephone bidders calling from China, the United States, Latin America and Europe in a battle that ended at $40 million. This is a new auction record for Roy Lichtentstein, beating his previous record of $38.5m set six months earlier by I Can See the Whole Room!… and There’s Nobody in it (Christie’s NY). For 3 years, Roy Lichtenstein has been going from new record to new record … but considering his iconic status in American Pop Art, this race is perhaps not surprising. Remember that Pop art’s best representative, Andy Warhol, holds an auction record of $64m (Green Car Crash (Christie’s NY, 16 May 2007). Sotheby’s also signed another major result at the same price when Francis BACON’s Figure writing reflected in mirror was acquired for its high estimate at $40 million.
Besides the Lichtenstein record, the most notable records were for Cy TWOMBLY (Untitled (New York City), $15.5m), AI Weiwei (Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower seeds), $650,000), Mark GROTJAHN (Grrr… (2003), $720,000), Glenn LIGON (Black Like Me #1, $1.1m) and Mark GROTJAHN (Untitled (Yellow Butterfly III), $1.8m).