NY auction houses toast staggering billion dollar week

Published May 18, 2013
A painting on display during a preview of Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art sales in New York. —Photo by AF
A painting on display during a preview of Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art sales in New York. —Photo by AF

NEW YORK: Two of New York’s leading auction houses combined for the art world’s richest sales week ever, with works going under the hammer for a breathtaking total of more than one billion dollars.

Christie’s reaped in more than $638 million dollars at its blockbuster contemporary art auction on Wednesday.

Its staggering haul included a record $58.4 million for a Jackson Pollock drip painting, which shattered all previous records for the highest price for any work at an art auction.

“We are thrilled to announce an unprecedented overall total of $638.6 million for this week’s Post-War and Contemporary Art sale series,” said Brett Gorvy, an official at Christie’s.

Sotheby’s, meanwhile, had stellar overall sales of $377.4 million, including the sale of the work “Domplatz, Mailand” (Cathedral Square, Milan) by German painter Gerhard Richter for $37.1 million — a record for a living artist.

The other sensation for Sotheby’s was a work by US painter Barnet Newman, one of the leading figures of abstract expressionism, whose “Onement VI” fetched $43.84 million — the most ever for one of his paintings.

Gorvy said the record prices “reflect a new era in the art market, wherein seasoned collectors and new bidders compete at the highest level within a global market.”

Pollock’s “Number 19, 1948,” executed in his iconic drip-paint style with a shimmering mixture of silver, black, white, red and green, had been expected to sell for between $25 million and $35 million.

But it shot up to set a new auction high for the artist.

The previous top auction price for a Pollock had been $40.4 million last year, although his paintings are said to have sold for far more in unconfirmed private deals.

Meanwhile one-time graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat also set a record, sailing past Christie’s $25 million to $35 million pre-sale estimate to $48.8 million.

It was the highest auction price ever for the young artist, who died in 1988 of a heroin overdose in New York, aged just 27.

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