Weekly Roundup: Record Breaking November Auctions


Record breaking sales of postwar and contemporary art took New York auction houses by storm this past week. In case you missed it, here’s what made the made headlines:

Collectors buy $2.3 billion of art in two weeks in N.Y
Collectors have snapped up a record $2.3 billion of art as two weeks of frenzied auctions wrap up in New York. The tally surpasses the $2.2. billion at New York’s auctions in May, which was 22 percent higher than last November, when $1.8 billion of art was sold. The estimate total reflects day and evening sales of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips that began November 4th. Sales concluded on November 13th. [Bloomberg Businessweek}

Christie’s makes auction history with contemporary art sale
In all, Christie’s postwar and contemporary art sale pulled in a total of $852.9 million—way above the estimate, which was in the region of $600 million. A total of 15 artist records were set, including that of Cy Twombly, Martin Kippenberg, and Ed Ruscha. Of 80 lots offered (two were withdrawn), 75 (or 94 percent) were sold. By value the auction realized 97 percent. As expected, the stars of the evening were Warhol’s silkscreen portraits of entertainment icons Elvis Presley and Marlon Brando. Together, they accounted for $151.5 million of the sale’s total. Each was estimated to sell for under $70 million. Other top sellers included a work by Roy Lichtenstein. The first up, Reflections on the Prom (1990), an oil and Magna on canvas, which sold for $21.4 million (its estimate was about 15 million). [artnet news]

Sotheby’s $343 million sale led by Jasper Johns’s ‘Flag’
The sale of Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns artworks long held in private collections helped Sotheby’s tally $343.6 million of postwar and contemporary art on Tuesday evening. The auction house was unable to surpsass its record set November 4th, when $422 million of Impressionist and modern art was sold. The total beat its $323.6 million low estimate but failed to reach its upper level of $419 million. The top lot of the night was No. 21 (Red, Brown, Black, and Orange)m an almost 8-foot-tall 1951 painting by Rothko that had previously never come to auction. The biggest disappointment of the evening was Moon (Yellow) by Jeff Koons, which was guaranteed, and failed to sell. The stainless-steel sculpture, which was owned by Damien Hirst, was estimated at $12 to $18 million. [Bloomberg News]

Patek Philippe gold watch sells for record $24.4 million
The most “complicated” handmade watch in the world has been sold at auction for a historic $24.4 million. The Henry Graves Supercomplication timepiece, made by the luxury watchmaker Patek Philippe in 1933 for the prominent banker Henry Graves, was sold at Sotheby’s in Switzerland. The sale smashed the world record for the most expensive watch ever sold at auction, which was previously held by the same watch. In 1999, it was sold to Sheikh Saud Bin Mohammed Ali Al-Thani of the Qatari royal family, for $11 million. The Supercomplication is comprised of 900 individual parts, and, according to Sotheby’s, is the most advanced timepiece ever made without the assistance of computers. It was last wound in 1969, yet remains in perfect working order. The watch took Patek Philippe eight years to produce, from its commission in 1925 to delivery in 1933. The identity of the new buyer is unknown. [CNN]

An anemic auction yields just $52 million at Phillips
Compared with auction giants Sotheby’s and Christie’s, Thursday’s Phillips Contemporary Evening Sale was an anemic affair, totaling just $52 million—less than the price of one prized painting at Sotheby’s or Christie’s. Still the overall sale was more than its low estimate of $45.7 million (and well under the high estimate of $67.7 million). Of the works up for grabs, eight did not find a buyer. The pricest painting—Hour, a stark white canvas that Robert Ryman made in 2001—sold for $4.5 million, or $5.2 million with fees, to a lone bidder, who presumably was the person who had given Phillips a guarantee, an undisclosed sum regardless of the sale. Frank Stella‘s Concentric Square A 1966 painting, sold to a telephone bidder for nearly $4 million, way above its $1.8 million estimate. [New York Times]

Ruby sets record price at Sotheby’s auction
London luxury jeweler Laurence Graff has paid a record $8.6 million for a Burmese ruby, the top lot at Sotheby’s jewelry auction marked by strong prices for fine diamonds and rare colored stones. Graff, known as the ‘King of Diamonds’, was buying the ruby of 8.62 carats for the second time, having acquired it first at an auction eight years ago. He had named the ‘pigeon-blood’, or pure red with a hint of blue, gemstone the ‘Graff Ruby’ at the time. In between he sold it to Greek financier Dimitri Mavromattis, whose collection of 16 jewels was a part of Sotheby’s semi-annual sale in Geneva on Wednesday night. In all, 403 gems netted a total of $95 million. [Reuters]

Image: Andy Warhol, “Triple Elvis (Ferus Type), 1963