It was certainly not a boring year in the art market. While there was nothing on the order of last year’s $450.3 million sale of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi (ca. 1500), Banksy auctioned a self-destructing work; a documentary on the industry, The Price of Everything presented some ugly truths about the business; and records were set for numerous living artists at auction. Below, a look at some of the highlights delivered via paddle and gavel.
David Hockney Becomes the Most Expensive Living Artist
The sale of David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972, at Christie’s New York in November for $90.3 million was perhaps the biggest auction news of the year. The work became the most expensive piece sold by a living artist ever sold at auction, shattering the previous record, held by a Jeff Koons Balloon Dog that had gone for $58.4 million in 2013. It took nine minutes of bidding for the Hockney to sell. The buyer remains a mystery.
Oh, Bother. A New Record for a Children’s Book Illustration
The original map by E. H. Shepard of the Hundred Acre Wood, where Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin play in A.A. Milne’s beloved children’s series, sold at Sotheby’s London this summer for £430,000, or about $569,000. This makes the drawing, officially titled The Original Map of the Hundred Acre Wood, the single most expensive children’s book illustration ever sold at auction. It was sold alongside four other Shepard sketches—altogether, the five rang up about $1.2 million.
Most Expensive Personal Collection Sale: The Rockefeller Estate at Christie’s
The David and Peggy Rockefeller estate sale was a rare white-glove affair, meaning that every single one of the more than 800 lots on offer sold. An evening sale of paintings from the impressive collection brought in $646.1 million alone, with a large chunk of that sum coming from Pablo Picasso’s Fillette à la corbeille fleurie (1905), which raked in a cool $115.1 million. Rockefeller acquired the work as a result of a lucky pull from a game of straws. The Rockefeller Collection stole the crown for priciest single-owner sale from the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Collection, which brought in €206.1 million, or $266.7 million, in 2009.
Jenny Saville Becomes Most Expensive Living Female Artist
Jenny Saville’s painting Propped (1992) sold for $12.4 million at Sotheby’s London in October to an anonymous telephone bidder, blazing past the previous record holder for the most expensive work by a living female artist: Cady Noland’s Bluewald (1989), which went for $9.8 million at Christie’s New York in May 2015. It’s a lot of money, to be sure, though compared to the record for living male artist (see above), the result emblematizes the staggering disparity in value between male and female artists.
The World’s Priciest Lift
At Sotheby’s this August, George Whitten, a Microsoft executive and noted car collector sold his dapper 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO for $48.4 million. Only 36 models were ever made of the cherry red sportster, making it as one of the rarest cars in the world. Prior to the sale, the record for any car was $38 million, which was set back in 2014. Fun fact about the Ferrari in question: it’s in perfect condition despite being used as a race car. No part of it has ever been fixed or replaced.
Kerry James Marshall Quadruples His Own Personal Record
Kerry James Marshall’s landmark painting Past Times (1997) sold to record executive and entrepreneur Sean Combs (aka P. Diddy) for $21.1 million, more than doubling his already lofty record at auction: the $5.04 million paid at Christie’s New York last November for Still Life with Wedding Portrait (2015). The result is a new high watermark for a black artist, and the same sale also saw new records for the Nigerian-American artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby and the late, great portraitist Barkley L. Hendricks.
Other Artists Garnering New Records
Marshall, of course, was not the only artist earning a new auction record in 2018. Edward Hopper’s masterpiece Chop Suey (1929) doubled the American artist’s previous record, selling for $91.9 million at Christie’s; Willem de Kooning’s Woman as Landscape broke his record on the block, also at Christie’s, selling for $68.9 million; a 2004 KAWS piece, Untitled (Fatal Group), went for $3.5 million at Phillips, a new high; and a Carmen Herrera raked in $2.7 million for Blanco Y Verde through Phillips as well. Other notable records: Arshile Gorky’s abstraction Good Afternoon, Mrs. Lincoln (1944) sold for $14 million at Christie’s, Henri Laurens’s abstract sculpture La Lune (1946) went for $2.2 million at Phillips, George Tooker’s quite creepy A Game of Chess (1946–47) brought in $432,500 with Christie’s, and the closely watched contemporary painter Amy Sillman had her U (2008) sell for $855,000 at Phillips.