Big Prices for Bacon Paintings Lead Sales of $315.9 Million, a Record Total for Sotheby’s
The art world continued its shopping spree last night at Sotheby’s, where contemporary-art collectors and dealers dropped a cool $315.9 million — a record auction total for Sotheby’s — on everything from a sculpture of a bright red heart to a somber painting of a bullfight to an image of an electric chair.
The two-hour bonanza seemed to build on the froth of Christie’s postwar and contemporary sale Tuesday night, which brought in $325 million. Of the 71 lots offered at Sotheby’s, only 6 failed to sell. “On Tuesday night, people didn’t know what to expect,” Philippe Ségalot, a Manhattan dealer who bought several works for three different clients, said at Sotheby’s. “But tonight the mood was far better.”
The auction was punctuated by two standout paintings by Francis Bacon in which Sotheby’s had invested some $60 million in guarantees. (A guarantee is a sum that the auction house promises to the seller regardless of a sale’s outcome.) It was a gamble, but it paid off.
“Second Version of Study for Bullfight No. 1” (1969), on a theme that Bacon was obsessed with, was the evening’s most expensive painting, selling for $45.9 million.
Four bidders went for the bullfight painting, and the victor was Mr. Ségalot. He said later that he was bidding on behalf of an American client whom he declined to name.
Sotheby’s had predicted that the canvas would go for about $35 million, although it did not provide an official sales estimate in the catalog.
Bidding was just as intense for a 1969 Bacon self-portrait in which the artist rendered his face in a swirling mix of bone and sinew, with haunting deep-set eyes. Like “Bullfight,” that painting did not carry a printed estimate, although experts said that they expected the self-portrait to bring $15 million to $20 million.
Three telephone bidders ended up competing with one another until Oliver Barker, a Sotheby’s expert, bought the painting for $33 million. (All that was revealed about the buyer was his paddle number, L0010.)
“Hanging Heart (Magenta/Gold)” a monumental bright red sculpture by Jeff Koons that adorned the cover of Sotheby’s auction catalog, went for $23.5 million.
One of five versions by the artist, each in a different color, it was being sold by the Manhattan collector Adam Lindeman. Sotheby’s had estimated it would bring $15 million to $20 million; the hammer price without premium was $21 million.
The Manhattan dealer Larry Gagosian beat four other contenders, paying $23.5 million with Sotheby’s commission and breaking the record price for the artist, set the previous evening.
Mr. Gagosian represents Mr. Koons, and on Tuesday night at Christie’s, he bought Mr. Koons’s giant sculpture “Blue Diamond” for $11.8 million. It was not known whether he was acting for a client or buying for his own gallery stock in either purchase.
One of the evening’s biggest consigners was Helyn D. Goldenberg, a Chicago representative for Sotheby’s, and her husband, Ralph. Among the most prominent works offered by the couple was Warhol’s “Self-Portrait (Green Camouflage),” a 1986 painting in which the artist’s face is glimpsed behind a gray, green and yellow pattern.
Three bidders competed for the painting, which went to a telephone bidder for $11 million, or $12.3 million including Sotheby’s premium, after an estimate of $9 million to $12 million.
Some paintings by Rothko have brought healthy prices this week. Last night, a gray-and-black canvas by Rothko sold for $10.7 million, against its estimate of $12 million to $18 million. (The price with premium was $12 million.) The sellers were the Iowa collectors John and Mary Pappajohn, who had bought the canvas at Christie’s for $800,000 in 1996.
Sotheby’s essentially won a Rothko duel: on Tuesday night, Christie’s offered a very similar 1969 gray-and-black painting by Rothko of similar dimensions. (Both measured 60 by 68 inches.) Christie’s sold for just $9.5 million, or $10.6 million including premium.
This was also a good week for the sculptor John Chamberlain. Last night “Big E,” a twisted amalgam of painted and chromium-plated steel automobile parts from 1962, was a hot commodity. Three bidders wanted the piece, and the dealer Robert Mnuchin landed it for $4.1 million ($4.6 million with premium), well above its $3 million high estimate and a record price for the artist at auction.
Basquiats have commanded strong prices recently, too. Last night, six people went for “Untitled (Electric Chair),” a large canvas (66 by 96 1/4 inches) from 1982 of graffiti and a cartoonish figure in an executioner’s chair against a bright yellow background. Estimated at $8 million to $10 million, it was snapped up by a telephone bidder for $10.5 million, or $11.8 million with premium. An untitled Basquiat from 1981 that was being sold by Peter Brant, the Greenwich, Conn., publisher, was estimated at $7 million to $9 million. A telephone bidder bought it for $6.9 million, or $7.7 million including Sotheby’s commissions.
Ellsworth Kelly’s work only occasionally comes to auction, and last night his “Spectrum VI,” a group of 13 single-color canvases arranged in a horizontal row, was on offer. Three people went after it, and it sold for $4.6 million, or $5.1 million with commission, marginally above its low estimate. Still, it was a record price for the artist.
This season, Chinese artists have made their way into the huge contemporary art auctions rather than being ghettoized in Asian art sales. Many fetched record prices last night. Zhang Xiaogang’s “Family Portrait,” a figurative work from his “Bloodline Series” inspired by 1920s photographs, brought $4.4 million ($4.9 million including premium), well above its $2.5 million to $3.5 million estimate.
After the sale, Sotheby’s staff members could not conceal their euphoria, especially after a poor showing at its Impressionist and modern art sale last week and a plunge in its stock price.
Looking relieved, Tobias Meyer, the evening’s auctioneer and director of its contemporary art department worldwide, said, “There was high-quality hunger from a global community.”