Art investors continue to spend despite market anxiety

Earlier this week, New York’s financial market expressed signs of anxiety after Wall Street saw their worst trading day of the year. However, this proved to have little to no impact on America’s art markets.
Despite worry over artwork deals, Christie’s auction house sales were fierce with Cy Twombly’s 1962 masterpiece ‘Leda and the Swan’ selling for a record of $52.9 million (£40.7 million).
Up for grabs were a number of new works, with the majority of pieces not having been to auction for at least two decades. Although there was a low estimation for the evening of sales, in total, artwork prices almost amounted to $391.3 million in the two hours of bids.
Over the week, sales across London, Paris, New York and Geneva are expected to reach almost $1 billion. At the auction itself, in addition to the Cy Twombly piece, four works exceeded $20 million. When adding buyers’ premiums to this, Christie’s tallied up $448 million in sales, an increase of over 60 per cent for the same auction a year earlier.
Founded in the 18th century, the British auction house showcased 71 lots of artwork and by the end of the evening, 96 per cent of the lots on offer had been sold, solidifying an improved market tone.
Guillaume Cerutti, Christie’s chief executive, commented: “If we needed proof of the strength of the art market, we have it. If we needed proof of the strength of Christie’s, we have it.” He also said that the top two works that sold during the auction – including Francis Bacon’s ‘Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer’ for $46 million – has not been covered by minimum price guarantees from Christie’s.
When including fees, Roy Lichtenstein’s masterpiece ‘Red and White Brushstrokes’ received bids for $28.2m, while Andy Warhol’s ‘Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable)’ reached $27.5 million with premiums. Warhol’s ‘Self-Portrait’ also sold for $4.2million, and the silkscreen ‘Last Supper’ for $18.7 million.
Elsewhere, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s acrylic and oilstick on wood panel ‘La Hara’, went to billionaire and Point72 chief executive Steven Cohen, for $35 million, a figure that was well above its low presale estimate.
The piece of artwork that stole the show – Cy Twombly’s ‘Leda and the Swan’, a combination of oil, lead pencil and wax crayons on canvas – has been described by the Financial Times as “an explosion of lines with several recognisable shapes”.
It is believed that Twombly’s work was inspired by the Greek myth that sees Leda seduced by Zeus, who has taken the form of a swan. While the estimated price for this artwork was $35 million, it actually sold for $47 million, with five bidders leading sales.
Sotheby’s also held a sale this week, with artworks selling for a total of $149.2m without fees. Works included a 1915 Suprematist painting by Kazimir Malevich and Max Ernst’s ‘Le roi jouant avec la reine’ sculpture. Both auctions now set a high bar for the upcoming New York contemporary spring sales.