NEW YORK – In a wave of auctions unprecedented in the history of the art market, Christie’s sale of contemporary art on Tuesday evening brought in $ 388.5 million, the highest amount ever recorded in this domain.
A world auction record was set for a contemporary work of art when Mark Rothko’s “Orange, Red, Yellow” painted in 1961 sold for just under $87 million. Christie’s estimate was $35-45 million, plus selling costs of over 15%. Christopher Burge, who led the session with exceptional brilliance, brought down his hammer on the winning bid of $77.5 million after one of the longest bidding matches ever seen in a contemporary art sale.
The Rothko had it all. Acquired from Marlborough Fine Art in London in 1967 by David Pincus, one of the leading American collectors of the second half of the century, the painting, consigned from the connoisseur’s estate, had never appeared on the market in the 45 years gone by.
Rothko, who died in 1970, was the dominant force in the New York abstractionist movement of the 1960s, and “Orange, Red, Yellow” can be considered persuasively the most powerful of all his images. This record leaves well behind the previous highest price paid at auction for a Rothko when “White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)” sold at Sotheby’s in May 2007, for $72.8 million. The market was then peaking on the eve of the 2008 recession, which makes this week’s new high all the more impressive.
The award that hailed “Orange, Red, Yellow” was the most spectacular of 14 world records set on Tuesday.
Two of them were created for American artists who, like Rothko, are at the heart of post-World War II art history and are considered gems of 20th-century art.
Jackson Pollock’s “Number 28, 1951,” an abstract composition, soared to $23.04 million, doubling the $11.65 million reached in May 2004, when “Number 12, 1949” appeared at Christie’s.
Pollock’s record image, also recorded from the estate of David Pincus, is the first of the paintings made by the artist between 1951 and 1952 in the drip technique which gives the surface of the painting a deep relief. The dazzling rhythm of rustling white, gray and black curves has a hypnotic quality that explains the astonishing price paid this week.
Alexander Calder’s three-dimensional work aroused similar enthusiasm. “Snow Flurry”, made around 1950 in painted sheet metal and wire, became the most expensive hanging mobile by the American artist sold at auction with 10.38 million dollars, doubling the highest expectations.
A world record was also set for a standing mobile. Halfway through the sale, “Lily of Force” performed in 1945 went up to $18.56 million. This was more than half the ambitious estimate cited by Christie’s for the Calder.
Among the less prominent American artists on the art scene, Barnett Newman, who died in 1970, made the most dramatic leap. “Onement V,” an abstract composition of dark blue bands painted in 1952, fetched $22.48 million, eclipsing the $5.19 million paid four years earlier at Christie’s for an untitled 1969 composition at the ink.
European artists represented by significant works triggered the same irrepressible enthusiasm. French artist Yves Klein’s “FCI (Fire Color I)”, nearly 3 meters or 10 feet long, completed in 1962 shortly before his death, fetched $36.48 million. That’s well above the previous record set at Sotheby’s in May 2008, when “MG9,” made in gold leaf, sold for $23.56 million.
Ghostly ocher female figures highlighted by misty purple halos appear in the composition executed with dry pigments and resin on panel. The elaborate process used by Klein in his so-called “Fire Paintings” required female studio assistants to stand naked in front of vast panels on which they leaned their bodies and left impressionistic footprints.
German artist Gerhard Richter, arguably the greatest master of the abstractionist school, also reached stratospheric heights. An “abstract image” from 1993 fetched a record $21.81 million. It is $1 million more than his 1997 ‘Abstract Picture’, which sold at Sotheby’s in November 2011. The new record price confirms that Mr Richter, who is 80, is now rightly fully recognized as an imposing figure. of the art of our time.
Recent works by younger artists in a wacky vein were also hunted and reached record highs at the very start of the sale.
“Untitled (Standing)” by Urs Fischer is a life-size wax representation of a collector and publisher, Peter Brant, leaning on an armchair also cast in wax. The catalog states that 14 wicks are housed within the man’s wax body, “which, when lit, transform ‘Untitled (Standing)’ into a giant candle that slowly melts to the ground.” Christie’s, however, made no attempt to follow those instructions on Tuesday night. That has to be left to the buyer of “Untitled (Standing)” who paid a record $1.3 million for the Fischer.
“Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp)” by Sherrie Levine exemplifies another aspect of the wacky trend in art today. This is the gilded bronze reproduction of the very real urinal that Marcel Duchamp, the founder of the Dada movement at the beginning of the 20th century, sent to an art exhibition. The grand master of the art of the absurd wanted it as a kick in the teeth of the Parisian intellectual establishment as well as the wealthy bourgeoisie of art collectors.
The mockery of yesteryear is taken very seriously by today’s shoppers burdened with millions of surpluses. Madame Levine’s “Fontaine (after Marcel Duchamp)” was executed in 1991 in an edition of six. Those who didn’t have the guts this week to shell out more than the new world record price for a Levine, $962,500, shouldn’t give up hope. Other gilt copies of Duchamp’s urinal, also engraved with Sherrie Levine’s initials, may yet appear.