Christie's and the magical $412 million

Christie’s has followed hot on the heels of Sotheby’s record-breaking auction of post-war and contemporary art, setting a new standard in this category. On November 14th, a day that is sure to go down in history, it recorded total sales of over $412 million (approximately £259.9 million). It also set 11 new records for artists.
Something peculiar is happening. Within the space of a few weeks, the art world alone has generated up to nearly one billion dollars in sales. In prosperous times this would be exceptional. That it has happened in an environment where there is still uncertainty in the global economy leaves people flabbergasted. What can you say?
“This truly was an extraordinary sale,” proffered Jussi Pylkkanen, president of Christie’s Europe, Middle East and Russia. “Clearly there’s an enormous amount of energy in the post-war and contemporary market. It’s highly likely that we’ll see a continuation of records being broken.”
Interest in contemporary art is as strong as it has ever been and this new benchmark set by Christie’s has introduced a whole new landscape, one which has dramatic implications for all future sales and what we understand about the value of art.
It didn’t quite eclipse Christie’s all-time record of $419.5 million (£264 million) at auction, but that doesn’t matter. It was a different time. That record was set in 2006 when times were good. No-one had really heard of derivatives or sub-prime mortgages.
What was interesting about that sale was that it was for impressionist and modern art. Though still as popular as ever, the current mood, especially when it comes to investments, is decidedly for post-war works by the likes of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.
Nevertheless, these are classics, regardless of their immediate position in time. We write about Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud with the kind of reverence with give to Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Diego Velazquez and Titian.
The numbers then: Andy Warhol’s Statue of Liberty (1962) sold for $43.7 million (£27.5 million); Franz Kline’s Untitled (1957) set a new record at $40.4 million (£25.4 million); while Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (1981) also made history when it was snapped up for $26.4 million (£16.6 million).
“We curated the sale around a rich variety of the highest quality works and most coveted artists in order to serve our broad international base of collectors in their quest to find the next iconic work, whether it is pop art, abstract expressionism, or cutting-edge contemporary,” said Brett Gorvy, chairman and international head of post-war and contemporary art.
It’s clearly a job well done.
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