Records fall for Twombly, Ruscha, Doig, Kippenberger, Sturtevant, Price, and more
This evening Christie’s brought in the highest-ever total for an auction, at their contemporary sale in New York, grossing $852.9 million across 75 lots. That figure beat the sale’s formidable estimate of $630 million to $836 million, and more than doubled the $343.7 million that its rival, Sotheby’s, brought in at its contemporary art auction last night. The previous record for an auction was $745 million, which was set back in May at Christie’s contemporary art auction in the same room.
The sale saw new artist records for 11 artists, among them Cy Twombly, Ed Ruscha, Peter Doig, Martin Kippenberger, Sturtevant, and Seth Price. Seventy-five of the eighty lots on offer found buyers, for an impressive sell-through rate by lot of 94 percent.
Despite being estimated in the region of $60 million, the top two lots of the night were not gambles, since that they both carried guarantees (meaning they were slightly pre-sold to the deep-pocketed house) and featured gruff celebrities.
Andy Warhol’s Triple Elvis [Ferus Type] (1960) and Four Marlons (1966) sold early as lots 9 and 10, going for $81.9 million and $69.6 million, respectively. By the time the second figure was reached, the crowd—whether reeling from the action or no longer capable of being surprised or just no longer impressed by anything under $80 million—forgot to clap.
Each of those lots saw three bidders, but the third-highest lot of the evening, Cy Twombly’s record-setting untitled work from 1970, had far more, with four after the $50 million mark and early bids from dealers David Zwirner and David Nahmad and Hong Kong art advisor Bong Lee.
“Whoaaa,” said someone in the audience after the painting passed $60 million.
“Who said that?” chuckled auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen, looking in the direction of the awe. He then turned back to the room, blasé. “Welcome to Christie’s.”
The painting eventually sold to a phone bidder for $69.6 million, easily besting a record of $21.7 million set one year ago at Sotheby’s by the artist’s 24-part drawing suite Poems to the Sea (1959), which was being deaccessioned by the Dia Art Foundation. Dealer Harry Blain said after the sale that “the encouraging thing was to see the depth of interest” in the Twombly.
“It’s a better example of Twombly than the Warhols were examples of Warhol,” he said.
To say it was a hot room would be to put things mildly.
Arshile Gorky’s 1945 Child’s Companions, which set a new record for the artist, is a horizontal painting but came out on the rotating display near the rostrum hung vertically. No matter—$8.9 million! The previous record for a Gorky, set two years ago at Sotheby’s New York, was $6.8 million, according to Artnet.
(Only one of the five lots that failed to sell could be classified a major failure, Roy Lichtenstein’s Keds (1961), which stalled at $19 million. It had been estimated to sell in the region of $20 million.)
It was also a night for certain developing markets. Seth Price’s Vintage Bomber (2006) led off the sale with a bang, selling for $785,000, beating its high estimate by a factor of more than 10. It also beat his previous record, set in May 2012 at Sotheby’s, of $158,500.
“Well it was a gold bomber jacket. How could people stay away?” said art advisor Stefano Basilico after the sale, referring to the popularity of the series. “I think we’re going to start seeing a lot of bomber jackets come out at auction from now on.”
Advisor Amy Cappellazzo, formerly Christie’s international chairman of postwar and contemporary development, picked up a work by Gutai artist Kazuo Shiraga, whose market has been developing lately, for $4.87 million.
Other familiar winners in the room included Pace Gallery’s Marc Glimcher, who paid $29.3 million for Willem de Kooning’s Clamdigger (1972), a statue that once welcomed visitors to the artist’s Long Island studio, and Larry Gagosian, who purchased a Bruce Nauman, William T. Wiley or Ray Johnson Trap (1967), for $665,000 and a record-demolishing Ed Ruscha, Smash (1963), for $30.4 million. The previous record for a Ruscha at auction was the $6.99 million paid for a Burning Gas Station (1965–66) in the same salesroom seven years ago.
Gagosian also bid up to $650,000 on another Nauman lot, Device to Hold a Box at a Slight Angle (1966), then asked Pylkkanen who was bidding at the front of the room, and decided not to go any further after Pylkkanen explained that he could not tell him that. The work ended up selling for $1.57 million, nearly twice its high estimate of $800,000.
But the evening was primarily made up of people buying for themselves, Brett Gorvy, Christie’s chairman and international head of postwar and contemporary art, said at the press conference after the sale, emphasizing the some 500 bidders from 43 different countries. He said that the new buyers were facilitated by recent “outreach” efforts in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and the Middle East.
“This was a collecting-buying pool tonight, rather than dealers,” he said.
The week’s contemporary sales wrap up tomorrow night at Phillips.
More works from the sale follow below.
Correction 11/13: An earlier version of this post misstated the number of lots sold and on offer, in one place.