2017: The Year in Review Market

The Year in Auctions: A Tale of Two Lots (Plus Nine More)

Visitors take in Qi Baishi’s Twelve Landscape Screens (1925), which sold for $140.8 million at Poly Auction Beijing, making it the runner-up for most expensive work auctioned in 2017.

COURTESY POLY CULTURE NORTH AMERICA

For a sense of the year in auctions in 2017, let’s look at the ninth and tenth lots of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art evening sale at New York’s Rockefeller Center on November 15. Lot number nine was Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which sold to a bidder on the phone with department head Alex Rotter for a record-shattering $400 million hammer price, or $450.3 million with the buyer’s premium. The sale was a world-historical event, such that when Yale Law School announced the year’s new entries to The Yale Book of Quotations, included among the ten was dealer Lawrence Luhring’s quip upon leaving the Christie’s sales room that night: “There is too much money in the world.”

Lot number ten of the Christie’s postwar and contemporary art evening sale, however, was even more interesting in much different terms. The work slotted in was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Il Duce (1982), but you won’t find it on the Christie’s website, as the auction house purges from its online records works that fail to sell. And Il Duce was a particularly embarrassing failure since it was guaranteed by the auction house for $25 million. When it failed to attract any bidders in the wake of the previous lot’s pyrotechnics, Christie’s had to eat the cost in full.

The year at the auction block had its low points but many high marks too, as you can tell from the ten most-expensive lots, listed below—with prices including buyer’s premiums and notes as to where each work sold.

1. Leonardo da Vinci
Salvator Mundi (circa 1500)
Christie’s New York: Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale
$450.3 million

2. Qi Baishi
Twelve Landscape Screens (1925)
Poly Auction Beijing, December 17, 2017
Surpassing the Ancient and Amazing the Contemporaries: Important and Classical Chinese Paintings and Calligraphies
$140.8 million

3. Jean-Michel Basquiat
Untitled (1982)
Sotheby’s New York: Thursday, May 18, 2017
Contemporary Art Evening Auction
$110.5 million

4. Vincent van Gogh
Laboureur dans un champ (1889-1890)
Christie’s New York: Monday, November 13, 2017
Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale
$81.3 million

5. Fernand Léger
Contraste de formes (1913)
Christie’s New York: Monday, November 13, 2017
Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale
$70.1 million

Andy Warhol, Sixty last Suppers (detail), 1986, acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, sold for $50.1 million at Christie’s.

CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2017

6. Andy Warhol
Sixty Last Suppers (1986)
Christie’s New York: Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale
$60.1 million

7. Gustav Klimt
Bauerngarten (Blumengarten) (1907)
Sotheby’s London: Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale
$59.1 million (£48 million)

Jean Michel-Basquiat’s Untitled (1982) had a pre-sale estimate in excess of $60 million and sold for $110.5 million.

©2017 THE ESTATE OF JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT/ADAGP, PARIS/ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK; COURTESY SOTHEBY’S

8. Constantin Brancusi
La muse endormie (circa 1913)
Christie’s New York: Monday, May 15, 2017
Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale
$57.4 million

9. Cy Twombly
Leda and the Swan (1962)
Christie’s New York: Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale
$52.9 million

10. Francis Bacon
Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer (1963)
Christie’s New York: Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale
$51.8 million

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