Christie’s confirms its leading position in contemporary art



The thrill of the New York contemporary art auctions is no longer the thousand dollar sale but those achieving millions of dollars. At the height of the May sales, a work by Mark ROTHKO went for 65 million dollars, becoming the most expensive post-war work in the market. These days the Sotheby’s and Christie’s contemporary art auctions are raising proceeds in excess of those on « Impressionist & Modern Art ». In 138 lots, the 15 and 16 May sales generated, all costs included, 639,528,400 million dollars, compared with 515,012,000 million dollars on 123 lots the previous week in the « Impressionist & Modern Art » sales.

Christie’s again had the opportunity to prove that it dominates the contemporary art auctions. The sales achieved at its evening sale of 16 May 2007 will not easily be forgotten. Achieving a new record of 384,654,000 dollars, including costs, the best result to date in contemporary art. It is worth noting, too, that this represents the second best result ever reached at auction, Christie’s already holding pole position with its « Impressionist & Modern Art » sale of 8 November last, which brought 491,472,000 dollars, all costs included. Furthermore, the auction house achieved 26 new records. Held until now by his Mao sold last November, Andy WARHOL saw his highest price quadrupled with Green Car Crash changing hands for 64 million dollars. Another record goes to Damien HIRST whose Lullaby Winter, created in 2002, sold for 6,600,000 dollars. Several works saw frantic bidding. Thus, Mark ROTHKO obtained his second best price with Untitled of 1954 knocked down for 24 million dollars. The work, created in 1961, had been expected to go for 20 million dollars. Willem DE KOONING finally delivered his Untitled I on which the hammer fell at 17,000,000 dollars.

While short of the result obtained by its competitor, the Sotheby’s sale can hardly be described as secondary, raising not less than 254,874,000 dollars on 15 May. Mark ROTHKO found the highest bidder here, achieving his new record with White Center, created in 1950, which changed hands for 65 million dollars. Back in November 2006, Sotheby’s enabled Francis BACON to exceed the 10 million dollar level in selling his Version No.2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe for more than 13 million dollars. Three months later, its competitor won the title back in achieving nearly twice as much with the sale of Study for Portrait II for 24,632,500 dollars. While Sotheby’s had hoped for more than 30 million dollars for the Study of Innocent X, the auction house finally achieved 47 million on 15 May last. The three other records of the sale were obtained by Jean-Michel BASQUIAT whose Untitled, dated 1981, changed hands for 13 million dollars, Robert RAUSCHENBERG’s Photograph for 9 million 5 and, finally, Tom WESSELMANN’s Smocker n 17 for 5.2 million.

Whereas in 2006, the two rival auction houses achieved May New York sale proceeds of close to 660 million dollars, this year buyers spent more than one billion dollars. In years to come the May sales will certainly confirm the position of the two houses.