Christie's Delivers ($94 million) at Art Auction, Trounces Sotheby's
Christie's fought the trend and walked away with close to $94 million. Naysayers stand shocked (I'll admit it; I'm among them). This is still far from the record-setting years leading up to the current financial crisis, but only the truly stubborn would not recognize the accomplishment of coming close to the upper end of the auction house's estimate, particularly a day after competitor Sotheby's turned in such a dismal performance.
The initial estimate for Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale was $71.5 million to $104.5 million. Forty-nine of the 54 available lots were sold – a sales rate of 91 percent by lot and 94 percent by value. This easily tops the 81 percent by lot that Sotheby's hit (en route to a paltry $47 million). Thirty of the lots sold for more than $1 million each, and nine raked in more than $3 million a piece.
If you want to be negative, though, you still have plenty of ammo. Back in November, Christie's achieved a $113.6 million take with a sale rate of only 68 percent (by lot). A year ago, the auction house pulled in $331.4 million at a sale rate of 95 percent.
But, last May doesn't count. That was a last hurrah, of sorts, and most in the art community realized it, even if they wouldn't concede the obvious.
Back to the positive, the auction witnessed five artist records. An anonymous phone bidder scored David Hockney's Beverly Hills Housewife for the princely sum of $7,922,500. The piece was estimated at $6 million to $10 million. It was sold by the estate of California art collector Betty Freeman, who bought the piece in 1967 ... for $4,250. Not bad!
In all, pieces from Freeman's collection – 20 in all – accounted for more than a third of the evening's sales, at $31.6 million. Larry Gagosian bought one of them, Roy Lichtenstein's Frolic, for a little over $6 million, actually above the pre-sale estimate of $4 million to $6 million. Gagosian also nabbed Untitled (Upstate), a "raggedy-looking 2007 bronze sculpture of a picnic table and a basketball hoop" by Richard Prince, paying a little over $1 million.
Other big sales involved works by Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol, Richard Diebenkorn and Willem de Kooning, whose Woman shattered the $1.4 million to $1.8 million pre-sale estimate by reaching nearly $3.7 million, thanks to the work of an anonymous phone bidder.
A tough night for works by Jeff Koons at Sotheby's was remedied at Christie's. His Jim Beam – J.B. Turner Engine went for more than $2.3 million – blowing away the high-end pre-sale estimate of $1 million.
Is the art market back? Let's not get hasty ... but at Christie's, it certainly looked healthier than it has in a while.