15 World Auction Records Established on Sotheby's Sale of Contemporary Art

Friday, May 18, 2018
15 World Auction Records Established on Sotheby's Sale of Contemporary Art

“This has to have been a record night for records. In an auction-room that was buzzing with energy, we established no fewer than 15 benchmarks, from artists working in the first few decades of the 20th century to those telling new stories today."

Grégoire Billault, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department, New York, noted: “This has to have been a record night for records. In an auction-room that was buzzing with energy, we established no fewer than 15 benchmarks, from artists working in the first few decades of the 20th century to those telling new stories today. Groups of works connected with great homes always add a special magic to these sales, and works from the Mandel collection – long-hidden from public view – were greeted with tremendous excitement tonight, as were those sold to benefit The Studio Museum in Harlem, which took a big step forward towards realizing its ambitions.”

The Contemporary Art Evening Auction was led by two works that achieved prices over $30 million – Jackson Pollock’s Number 32, 1949 sold for $34.1 million, and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Flesh and Spirit fetched $30.7 million. Each preserved in private collections for 35 years, these paintings by American masters made their auction debuts.

David Hockney’s Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica – a centerpiece of the artist’s museum retrospective at the Tate Britain, London, the Centre Pompidou, Paris and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – was among the 15 auction records set this evening. Sold to an Asian private collector for $28.5 million, this was indeed the second time the artist’s record was broken this evening. Ten lots earlier, Piscine de Medianoche (Paper Pool 30), one of only three extant works in the series depicting swinging pools after dark, sold for $11.7 million, a record for a work on paper by the artist. Four of the five highest auction prices for the artist have been achieved in the past 18 months alone. Kerry James Marshall’s Past Times, an indisputable masterpiece and culmination of the artist’s iconic Garden Project paintings, achieved $21.1 million, quadrupling the previous record of $5 million, set just six months ago (estimate 8/12 million). The work was recently highlighted in the artist’s mid-career survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Raising the Bar: Masterworks from the Collection of Morton and Barbara Mandel – a survey of the movement of art over the course of the 20th century – achieved an impressive $107.8 million, with full proceeds to benefit the Mandel Foundation and the causes the Mandels have championed throughout their lives. The evening sale was led by Mark Rothko’s Untitled, a signature color field composition by the artist. Chased by six bidders over the course of six minutes, the beautiful work on paper achieved $18.9 million – a new auction record for a work on paper by Rothko. The collection also set a new auction record for a ceramic by Pablo Picasso with La Chouette en colère, which achieved $2.5 million (estimate $800/1,200,000), and an auction record for Lucas Samaras for Box #117, which sold for $585,000 (estimate $200/300,000).

The first five lots of the Contemporary Art Evening Auction were donated by Mark Bradford, Julie Mehretu, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Glenn Ligon and Njideka Akunyili Crosby for Creating Space: Artists for the Studio Museum in Harlem: An Auction to Benefit the Museum’s New Building, which 4 attracted spirited bidding and raised $16.4 million. The group was led by Mark Bradford’s Speak, Birdman, created by the artist specifically for this auction; estimated at $2/3 million, six collectors battled for the work for 6 minutes, pushing the final price to $6.8 million (estimate $2/3 million). Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s Bush Babies, which fetched $3.4 million, achieved a new record for the artist (estimate $600/800,000). 

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