Bacon stars as season total moves to $857 million
Strong results for Bacon, Warhol and Rothko as the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale realises $397 million
Attracting collectors from across the world, 20th Century week continued at Christie’s in New York on 17 May, with Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait — which sold for nearly $50 million — achieving the top price in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale.
The auction of 64 blue-chip works by icons including Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly and Jeff Koons, to name just a few, achieved a total of $397,159,500/ £293,539,911 and was 91 per cent sold by lot and 93 per cent sold by value. This took the running total for the 20th Century season to $857,109,000, with more sales to come on Friday. The running total over two weeks with The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller moved on to $1.7 billion.
World records were achieved on the night for artists including Joan Mitchell, Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Gober and George Condo. An auction record was set for Morris Louis’ work early in the sale, only for it to be broken again minutes later.
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Leading the evening was Bacon’s Study for Portrait, offered at auction for the very first time, which realised $49,812,500/ £36,816,334 after a protracted bidding battle. Painted in Paris in 1977 and unveiled that year at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the work is a eulogy to George Dyer, Bacon’s greatest muse and lover, who had died six years earlier.
Koons’ Play-Doh was an early standout, selling for $22,812,500/ £16,860,680. Created over the course of two decades, the monumental sculpture executed in polychromed aluminium is among the largest and most complex works in the artist’s Celebration series, begun in the mid-1990s, which includes Balloon Dog, Hanging Heart and Tulips.
Inspired by the colourful Play-Doh creations modelled by Koons’ then-young son Ludwig, the piece is almost architectural in its scope and intricacy. But its vibrant surface belies the decades of research and craftsmanship that went into its creation, as well as the essential contributions of scientists, metallurgists and modellers.
Two works by Warhol were sale highlights. A total of $37,000,000/ £27,346,637 was achieved for Double Elvis [Ferus Type], a 1963 work whose subject — a studio portrait of Elvis Presley taken for a 1960 Western — reflects the artist’s obsessive fascination with celebrity.
Similarly strong interest was seen for Warhol’s Most Wanted Men No. 11, John Joseph H., Jr, executed in 1964, which realised $28,437,500/ £21,018,108. Situated squarely within the body of Warhol’s work that deals with death and tragedy, the piece is one from a series of canvases featuring mugshots taken from The Thirteen Most Wanted Men, a 1962 booklet produced by the New York Police Department.
Nearly eight feet high and among the largest canvases he ever painted, Mark Rothko’s No. 7 (Dark over Light) (1954) drew the third-highest price of the evening, realising $30,687,500/ £22,681,079.
Rothko considered size a key factor in achieving the emotional intensity he desired. As he would explain, ‘I realise that historically the function of painting large pictures is painting something very grandiose and pompous. The reason I paint them, however… is precisely because I want to be very intimate and human.’
The Evening Sale also saw one of the most significant selections of work by American artist Richard Diebenkorn ever to come up for auction, tracing the artist’s four-decade trajectory from abstraction to figuration and back again. Leading the group was Ocean Park #126 (1984), widely considered to be the greatest canvas Diebenkorn ever executed, which realised $23,937,500/ £17,692,166 and set a world record for the artist. Untitled, from 1991, sold for $3,972,500/ £2,936,068, making a record for a work on paper by the artist.
Additional lots from the 22-piece group, sold to benefit The Donald and Barbara Zucker Family Foundation, will be offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 18 May.
Also of interest was François-Xavier Lalanne’s playful Mayersdorff Bar, which achieved $4,572,500/ £3,379,527. The piece was executed in 1966, one year after Lalanne created a bar for Yves Saint Laurent (sold in 2009 at Christie’s in Paris from the Collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé). Although each pieces is unique, both were executed in maillechort, a malleable blend of copper, zinc and nickel that allows a subtle play of light.
Across the auction, further notable prices were achieved for Joan Mitchell’s Blueberry, which sold for $16,625,000/ £12,287,509, more than doubling its high estimate and setting a world record for the artist. Robert Gober’s Untitled, which achieved $7,287,500/£5,386,179, made a world record for the artist, as did Morris Louis’ Devolving, which sold for $5,712,500/ £4,222,099.
‘We’re only as good as the art we have to sell,’ said Sara Friedlander, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art in New York, ‘and this season we were fortunate to be entrusted with some extraordinary collections. We are so pleased to see, time and time again, our clients responding to works that are completely fresh to the market, and that have been owned and loved for many years.’
Christie’s 20th Century auctions conclude on 18 May with the Post-War and Contemporary Art morning and afternoon sessions.