The auction market has seen $1.5 billion worth of contemporary art sold in 2 weeks. Sotheby’s and Christie’s International put a number of marquee works by big names to the test in their post-war and contemporary art auctions. Firstly, on Tuesday night Sotheby’s managed to achieve an aggregate sales total of USD$343.6 million. This seemed very impressive until the following evening when Christie’s held their auction; Wednesday night saw a jaw-dropping USD$853 million in aggregate sales in less than 2 hours, shattering the high pre-sale total estimate of USD$600 million.
For Sotheby’s, a new auction record was set for the works of Jasper Johns with Flag, 1983 selling for USD$36 million. This surpasses the previous record for Johns’ work, another version of Flag sold through Christie’s in 2010 for USD$28.6 million. All in all, an increase of around USD$7 million over four years is quite impressive. Overall Sotheby’s successfully sold 85.9% of its works on offer, helping the auction house to achieve 89.3% of the sale’s potential total value. Christie’s managed to set a new auction record as well, this time for the artist Cy Twombly. One of Twombly’s characteristically scrawled, blackboard-like works untitled sold for USD$70 million. Overall, Christie’s evening auction saw 94% of the works on offer sold, helping to achieve 97% of the sale’s total potential value. Steven Murphy, Christie’s Chief Executive, commented that this “proves that enjoying works of art has become a universal pursuit in our time”.
Andy Warhol Goes to Market
Last week the art market definitely belonged to Andy Warhol, with a number of iconic artworks by the artist going under the hammer and achieving results that drew audible gasps within the auction room. Warhol was Christie’s headline act with two silk-screen prints being put to auction by their long-time owner WestSpiel. Both the 1963 Triple Elvis [Ferus Type] and the 1966 Four Marlons were purchased together by WestSpiel, a German casino operator owned by state-run bank NRW.Bank, in 1977 for USD$185,000. Triple Elvis sold to an anonymous European telephone bidder for USD$82 million, whereas Four Marlons sold for just under USD$70 million on Wednesday night. Combined these two works sold in excess of USD$152 million, well above their combined estimates of USD$130 million. The return on these two Warhol works combined represents around 20% CAGR p.a. for WestSpiel; whom will be using the proceeds to expand their operations into a new casino. Sotheby’s also managed to sell two well-known, yet lesser Warhol works. Firstly a mint-green portrait of Elizabeth Taylor Liz#3 (Early Colored Liz), 1963 going for USD$31.5 million, above its estimate of USD$30 million. Also Warhol’s purple portrait Brigitte Bardot, 1974 selling for USD$11.6 million, well over its USD$10 million pre-sale estimate.
On the night, Christie’s auction room more closely resembled the Wall Street commodities-trading floor of the 1980s (minus the red blazers) than the usual dignified white-glove auction atmosphere, with American hedge fund managers and Asian entrepreneurs heatedly raising their paddles time and time again for the marquee works. Confidence in the market is brimming, case and point being Christie’s twenty works carrying a hefty USD$10 million plus price tag. Another bolster to market confidence remains the fact that some 37 of the artworks represented by Christie’s in this latest auction carried risk-obliterating guarantees backed either by the auction house themselves or external investors, an assurance that the pieces would sell. The takeaway from this latest round of contemporary art auctions again highlights the superiority of the trading market for contemporary artworks as previously discussed in the Artmarq, the burgeoning confidence in contemporary art and the potential returns of a long-term investment in marquee works by the best artists, a la WestSpiel’s Andy Warhols.
Andy Warhol, Triple Elvis [Ferus Type] 1963. Silkscreen Ink & Silver Paint on Linen, 208.3 x 175.3cm. Andy Warhol, Liz#3 (Early Colored Liz) 1963. Acrylic & Silkscreen Ink on Canvas, 101.6 x 101.6cm.