Published: May 29, 2012
Christie’s two-week sales series devoted to Impressionist, Modern, postwar and contemporary art totaled $616,055,425 and yielded sell-through rates of 88 percent by lot and 93 percent by value on average †among the highest ever seen for these categories at auction. At both evening sales, the quality and rarity of the works on offer inspired steep competition among collectors, who pushed prices for many works well beyond their presale estimates. Numerous new artist records were achieved, signaling renewed strength and overwhelming confidence in the art market.
The star lot of the sale series was Mark Rothko’s “Orange, Red, Yellow,” which achieved $86.9 million after a fierce bidding battle, and set a new record for any work of postwar and contemporary art sold at auction. In total, 71 lots offered over the course of the two weeks surpassed the $1 million mark, 11 sold above $10 million and five sold above $20 million. Record after record tumbled at the postwar and contemporary evening sale on May 8, which totaled $388.5 million †the highest sale total for any auction in this category.
The source for the most dazzling prices this season was the Pincus Collection, which nearly doubled its presale estimate to achieve $175 million at the May 8 evening sale †the most valuable single owner collection of postwar and contemporary art ever offered at auction.
The sales drew unprecedented interest from collectors around the globe, with clients from 50 different countries participating in the sales series. As expected, North American bidding was strong throughout the two weeks, enlivened by increased competition from clients throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, Russia, South America, Australia and Asia. As a result, nearly 60 percent of lots at the Impressionist and Modern art evening sale sold above or within their estimate, and nearly 70 percent at the postwar and contemporary art evening sale.
Among the themes and trends that emerged during the fortnight of sales was the continued demand for Abstract Expressionist works and their Modernist predecessors. In addition to the Rothko, Christie’s achieved new artist records for Jackson Pollock with “Number 28,” 1951, which realized $23 million, and Barnett Newman, with “Onement V,” 1952, which sold for $22.5 million.
Prices for modern and contemporary sculpture also continued their upward trend in the market with stellar prices achieved for Alexander Calder, Willem de Kooning, Henry Moore, Edgar Degas, Louise Bourgeois, Sherrie Levine and Urs Fisher. In particular, bidders greeted Calder’s works with unprecedented enthusiasm, breaking the auction record for the artist twice in the same evening, first with “Snow Flurry,” a massive hanging mobile from 1950 that achieved $10.4 million, and then again with “Lily of Force,” a 7½-foot-tall standing mobile executed in 1945, which fetched a record-setting $18.6 million.
In total, 14 new artist records were set, including Urs Fisher, untitled (Standing) $1,314,500 (record for the medium by the artist); Sherrie Levine, “Fountain,” $962,500; Joseph Albers, “Homage to the square,” $1,986,500; Vija Celmins, untitled #8, $1,142,500; Alexander Calder, “Snow Flurry,” $10,386,500 (record for a mobile by the artist); Gerhard Richter, “Abstraktes Bild (798-3),” $21,810,500; Mark Rothko, “Orange, Red, Yellow,” 1961, $86,882,500; Jackson Pollock, “Number 28,” 1951, $23,042,500; Barnett Newman, “Onement V,” 1952, $22,482,500; Jeff Wall, “Dead Troops Talk (& ,” 1992, $3,666,500; Alexander Calder, “Lily of Force,” $18,562,500; Yves Klein, “FC1 (Fire Color 1),” 1962 $36,482,500; Gerhard Richter, “Seestüeck,” 1969, $19,346,500 (record for a photorealist work by the artist); and Romare Bearden, “Strange Morning,” $338,500.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.Christies.com or 212-636-2000.
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