Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Auction Sales of 2013

Considering today is Christmas Eve, it seems rather appropriate to blog about the work you see here: A Christmas Carol, 1867, oil on panel [image: Sotheby's]. The painting is by the Pre-Raphaelite/Aesthetic artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). The picture reveals many of Rossetti's interests at this time, from the beautiful woman in a bower to the connections of the visual with music as a timeless, experiential art form. But the reason why I'm showcasing this Victorian picture is because the painting was sold at Sotheby's London on December 4 and earned a record-high sale for Rossetti, coming in with the hammer price of £4,562,500 ($7,475,200). This actually beat the sale for a Rossetti color charcoal drawing of Proserpine that had just been a record high for him a few weeks earlier at £3.3m ($5.3m). Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic art continues to rise in popularity...an ongoing testament to the recent Oxford conference following up on the successful exhibition held at Tate Britain, that I saw in Washington, D.C., and then went on to Moscow and Tokyo.

That said, auction prices for Victorian art still pale in comparison to the market for post-WWII art, which continues to skyrocket, with more and more sales coming in at the $100+ million mark. As I noted in last year's post on auction sales of 2012, 10 of the highest-priced auction and private sales have all taken place since 2006. We can now extend that to point out that the top 17 spots for the most paid for art in auction/private sales have all taken place over the past 10 years! According to a recent article in Businessweek, "the top 10 auction lots of 2013 raised $752.2m, a 27 percent increase from 2012 and an 82 percent jump from 2011." Trends in the art-buying auction world are showing that the "tres nouveaux riches" are from China, Russia, and the Middle East. (Not coincidentally these are the same groups who are also buying up high-end real estate all over Manhattan, leaving the Everyman little chance of ever being able to own property in NYC.) Art, more than ever before, is a commodity, something to be flipped and sold at a profit. Museums cannot even compete in this new art market. Jed Perl, art critic for the New Republic, has written an interesting editorial about this, noting how the super-rich are ruining for the rest of us the ability to appreciate art.

Three major auction records were broken this year for post-War art. Francis Bacon's Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969, sold on November 12 at Christie's New York for $142,405,000 hammer price (see my blog post about this here), making it currently the highest amount ever paid at auction. Andy Warhol's Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), 1963, silkscreen ink and silver spray paint on canvas [image: Sotheby's], broke Warhol's record when it sold on November 13 at Sotheby's New York for $105,445,000. Finally, Jeff Koons's Balloon Dog (Orange) stainless steel sculpture, 1994-2000, sold at the same Christie's sale as the Bacon for $58,405,000, giving Koons the record for the most money paid at auction for a living artist's work.

Keeping track of the most money paid for works of art can be tricky, as most resources combine auction and private sales. One example is theartwolf.com, and another is this Wikipedia entry. Both focus on paintings and they also account for inflation and current value (which is both helpful and distracting, as it alters the ranking of "most valuable"). Extracting data from these and other sources, I've put together my own Top 5 Auction Sales of Works of Art. I have no doubt it will change each year, but this is how things stand as of today.

  1. Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969, oil on canvas in three parts, sold Nov. 2013, Christie's New York, $142.4m.
  2. Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1895, pastel on board, sold May 2012, Sotheby's New York, $119.9m.
  3. Pablo Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, 1932, oil on canvas, sold May 2010, Christie's New York, $106.5m.
  4. Andy Warhol, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), 1963, silkscreen ink and silver spray paint on canvas, sold Nov. 2013, Christie's New York, $105.4m.
  5. Pablo Picasso, Garรงon a la pipe, 1905, oil on canvas, sold May 2004, Sotheby's New York, $104.1m.

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