Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale on November 13th reached the highest total of any auction category in Sotheby’s long history, raking in over $375 million (beating the firm’s previous record of $362 million set at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale in May 2008). World record auction prices were attained for five artists: Hans Hofmann, Arshile Gorky, Robert Motherwell, Wade Guyton and Jackson Pollock, with Pollock’s “Number 4, 1951,” selling for $40.4 million. A seminal large-scale 1954 painting by Mark Rothko was the top lot in the auction at $75.1 million.
The next night, Christie’s delivered an astounding tally of $412 million, its biggest sale ever in the Post-War and Contemporary Art category, and the second highest in its history (a 2006 Christie’s auction of impressionist and modern art still stands as the largest total at $491 million). Eight artist world record prices were achieved: Richard Serra, Franz Kline, Richard Diebenkorn, Jeff Koons, George Condo, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mark Grotjahn and Donald Judd.
Bidding was brisk for a 1957 painting by Abstract Expressionist Franz Kline, which sold for a new record of $40.4 million, rocketing above the previous record price for the artist of $9.3 million which had been established just the day before at Sotheby’s.
A monumental Jeff Koons stainless steel sculpture from 1995-2004, “Tulips,” brought a record auction price for the artist at $33.6 million, and a 1981 painting by Jean Michel Basquiat fetched $26.4 million, surpassing the previous record price for the artist’s work. The top lot of the Christie’s sale was Andy Warhol’s 1961 “Statue of Liberty”, which realized $43.7 million.
The contemporary art market remains strong for quality works. The global reach of today’s major auctions has widened the pool of buyers, and there is more foreign money investing in contemporary art than ever before.