Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Sale Breaks Records

by Alex R. Travers

It’s a little known secret to those outside of the art world: even if you don’t plan on bidding, you can still walk into major auction houses and preview the works before they go up for sale. These previews are mind-blowing. The strict curatorial rules of the museums aren’t in play. Klines flirt with Warhols; Rothkos shine on Rymans; voyeuristic Condos lock eyes with seductive Lichtensteins. It’s almost overwhelming to see so much exceptional art in such a small space.

This year, high chromium stainless steel tulips, sculpted by Jeff Koons, blossomed outside the Christie’s entrance on 49th Street. But what the masses didn’t know was that they would soon break the world auction record for outdoor sculptures by the artist, helping to make last evening’s sale the most profitable in its category.

$412,253,100 was the number. It was the most valuable auction ever in the Post-War and Contemporary Art category. Eight new auction records were established; 11 works sold for over $10 million, and 16 for over $5 million. “This evening’s sale set a new record total for any Post-War and Contemporary Art sale. Over the past six years, Christie’s has led this market first over the $200 million, then over the $300 million, and now over $400 million barrier,” said Brett Gorvy, Deputy Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art.

The highlight of the sale was Andy Warhol’s Statue of Liberty, part of his Death and Disaster series. Makes sense. Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), also part of the Death and Disaster series, sold for over $71 million, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a huge Warhol exhibition honoring the artist 25 years after his death. Warhol is hot now and so is the symbol of hope at a time of crisis. Enter Lady Liberty. She fetched a whopping $43,762,500.

In the realm of abstract expressionism, Franz Kline prices shot up like a rocket. The previous auction world record for a Kline was $9.3 million. The hammer price on Untitled (1957), was $40,402,500.00. While I like to think a Kline copy I made on a white cotton canvas hanging in my studio apartment was the catalyst for the excitement and monumental price tag, this historic painting was arguably the most important work by the artist to come to auction. A brilliant coup for Christie’s!

To view the entire Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art auction results, visit their website.