In 2022, the top auction houses put major resources into diversifying their evening sales, all the while offering the heralded estates of top collectors that brought the industry to record annual sums this month. Drawing collectors across the globe to their marquee sales, the houses continuously broke records for canonical and emerging artists between the fall and spring seasons.
This May, a $200 million painting from the collection of Swiss mega-dealers Thomas and Doris Amman made headlines as one of the most expensive works by an artist active in the last century to come to public auction when it sold at Christie’s. Meanwhile, the collection of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen notched new milestone prices in the hundreds of millions for blue-chip male artists like Paul Cezanne, George Seurat and Vincent van Gogh. While those sums occupied much of the auction circuit’s spotlight this year, activity at smaller outfits like Phillips saw new highs for emerging artists with rising primary markets.
Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, 1964
In May, Andy Warhol’s 1964 silkscreen portrait of Marilyn Monroe made headlines when it sold for a record-setting $195 million (including fees) at Christie’s New York. The result made it the most expensive work by a 20th-century artist ever sold in a public auction. Purchased by art dealer Larry Gagosian, the painting, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964), is based on a press photo from Monroe’s 1953 noir film Niagara. The image is one Warhol used repeatedly in his work until his death in 1987. It derives from his “Shot Marilyn” portrait series, which was inspired by an incident at Warhol’s downtown studio in which he prompted a collaborator, Dorothy Podber, to shoot into a stack of canvases.
Georges Seurat’s Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version), 1888
Offered as part of Paul Allen’s $1.5 billion art collection at Christie’s in May, Georges Seurat’s Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version) fetched the highest price overall. The painting depicts three nude women in Seurat’s signature pointillist style that the artist produced between 1888 and 1890. A bidder on the phone with Christie’s Asia chairman Xin Li won the work on a bid of $130 million, drawing applause from the packed room. The final price for the painting with buyer’s fees was $149 million — surpassing the $100 million estimate. It was one of five works from the Microsoft co-founder’s art holdings to achieve the $100 million benchmark.
Man Ray’s Violon d’Ingres, 1924
Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres (1924), a famed image depicting a nude woman’s back overlaid with a violin’s f-holes, sold for $12.4 million at Christie’s in February. Sold from a Surrealist art collection, the sale set a record as the most expensive photograph ever to come to auction. The rare print hammered at a price of $10.5 million, going to a bidder on the phone with a Paris-based specialist for well beyond its $7 million high estimate. The total surpassed the previous public price achieved for a photograph by a factor of three times—set in 2011 when Andreas Gursky’s 1999 landscape Rhein II sold at Christie’s for $4.3 million. The sale also surpassed the previous record for a photograph by Man Ray set in 2017, when an early edition of Noire et Blanche (1926) sold for $3 million during a Paris auction held at Christie’s.
Andrew Wyeth's Day Dream, 1980
While twenty artist records were set during the sale of Microsoft-co-founder Paul Allen’s collection in November, a select few managed to surprise audiences. American artist Andrew Wyeth’s 1980 canvas Day Dream — a voyeuristic view of a nude women asleep in a canopied bed — was among the works to far outpace the price milestones. It elicited a bidding battle between Christie’s specialists based in Asia and the U.S. West Coast. The competition drove the hammer price to $20 million — ten times the $2 million expectation. The final price of $23.3 million doubled the previous benchmark price of $10.4 million set in 2007 at Christie’s for the sale of Wyeth’s Ericksons (1973).
Matthew Wong's The Night Watcher, 2018
The Night Watcher (2018), a melancholic painting by the late Canadian artist Matthew Wong, depicts like many of his works, a single figure wading through natural landscapes. It belongs to a critically acclaimed body of work completed before the artist’s death by suicide in 2019. Post-humous attention on the painter, who has drawn comparisons to Henri Matisse and other impressionist figures, has driven consecutive price milestones on the auction circuit since his work’s debut at Sotheby’s in 2020. Records for the artist fell twice in 2022. In May, Christie’s sold Green Room (2017) for $5.3 million while The Night Watcher (2015) sold during Sotheby’s “Now” auction-dedicated to young talent with rising primary markets just a week later. There, Wong’s painting sold for $6 million with buyer’s fees. The result was more than three times the $1.5 million estimate.
Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (My face is your fortune), 1984
For some long-established artists, new records came swiftly this year when works held in private collections for many years resurfaced. One of them was Barbara Kruger’s 1984 work Untitled (My face is your fortune), a work featuring the artist’s signature format: appropriated black-and-white photographs overlaid with cryptic phrases. It reappeared after more than 15 years in private hands during a New York contemporary art evening sale at Sotheby’s, where the house’s head of private sales, David Schrader, captured the winning bid for his client. It hammered at $1.25 million, going for a final price of $1.6 million, against an estimate of $600,000. The result surpassed the artist’s previous record set at Christie’s last year when Untitled (Your Manias Become Science), from 1981, sold for $1.2 million.
Salman Toor's Four Friends, 2019
Attention on the work of Salman Toor has only heightened since the artist’s first institutional survey in the U.S. at the Whitney Museum in 2020. His painting that headlined the exhibition’s advertising, Four Friends (2019), depicting a group of men convening under green-fluorescent lighting, came up for sale this November. Coming on the heels of a New Yorker profile that examined Toor’s rising appeal, the painting expectedly soared past expectations. Offered during a New York evening sale at Sotheby’s, it sold to a bidder on the phone with a London-based specialist for $1.6 million (with premium). The figure was more than three times its pre-sale estimate of $300,000 and set a new record for the artist.
María Berrío's He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, 2015
Attracting some of the most active bidding spars in the last year was the folklore-inspired work of Maria Berrío, a Bogotá-born, Brooklyn-based artist. In February 2022, a solo booth at Frieze’s Los Angeles edition showcased by Victoria Miro nearly sold out ahead of the fair’s public opening. Following the hype, a new auction record for the artist was set when her 2015 work He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (2015) sold at Phillips this November. The work, a florid scene in which three women appear to float on flower stems, sold during a contemporary art evening sale after bidders hailing from London and New York vied for it. It went for a final price of $1.6 million (including fees). The result was more than triple its $500,000 estimate. And it appears the artist’s appeal spans even further. Just a few days prior at Sotheby’s, Berrío was among the list of in-demand artists including Nicholas Party, Salman Toor, and Cecily Brown, to see significant bidding coming from Asia.
Reggie Burrows Hodges, Intersection of Color: Suite, 2019
Executed in 2019, the present work from Reggie Burrows Hodges’ “Intersection of Color” series was among the year’s sales highlights for Phillips, a spokesperson for the auction house told ARTnews. In it, three faceless black figures are seated together, presumably in the front row of a stadium skybox. The work was exhibited at the artist’s 2020 showcase Reggie Burrows Hodges: Intersection of Color, at Maine’s Press Hotel. A year later, his work, which curator Hilton Als described as imbued with a “cinematic creepiness,” surfaced at auction for the first time. Since then, attention on the artist has escalated. During a contemporary art evening sale held at Phillips in New York this past May, bids for the work climbed past its expectation of $200,000. Eventually, the work sold for a final price $730,800, more than three times the pre-sale estimate designated by Phillips specialists. The price surpassed Burrows Hodges’ previous auction record set just a week prior at Christie’s when another example from the same series sold for $705,600.
Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s What's the Use in Yearning, 2021
2022 proved to be a challenge for auctions staged in Hong Kong, which suffered from economic headwinds and ongoing Covid-related restrictions. The obstacles slowed down a years-long stretch of the region’s rising annual figures. But there are a few contemporary artists who managed to shine amid the slump. At Phillips’ Hong Kong evening sale in December, Michaela Yearwood — Dan’s What’s the Use in Yearning from 2021 set a new record when it sold for $HK $3 million ($387,677) — around ten times the $32,000 estimate. The result for the diptych abstraction surpassed the artist’s previous record of £239,400 ($250,000) set two months prior in October 2022.