Sunday, December 28, 2014

Auction Sales of 2014

Last year when I wrote about the annual round-up of highest art sales at auction, I had listed what was then the top 5 highest prices ever paid at auction for works of art because some new records had been made in the ranks. Those top 5 listings have not changed this year, and Picasso, Warhol, and Bacon still dominate the art market, even if works by them did not break new records in modern and contemporary art. You can read articles about the top sales in the Huffington Post and ARTnews. But the biggest news in this world was that Christie's reached an all-time single-night sale total of $852.9m for its modern and contemporary sale in New York in November. ("The Old Masters are dead; long live the Mod/Con!"--or so it would seem!) The work of other modern artists continue to break records, including new high sales for early modernist painter/sculptor Amedeo Modigliani and, one of the surprises, Cy Twombly, whose untitled 1970 "blackboard"-like work sold for $69.6m. (I am a fan of Modigliani, but Twombly still baffles me.) Joining the top sales of the year were paintings by Ab Ex painters Newman and Rothko, which is not very surprising.

For me, however, the top sales of the year that were most interesting are the four I've listed here, in chronological order of when they were created.
1) J.M.W. Turner's Rome, from Mount Aventine, 1835, broke the record for this important British landscape painter. It was one of a dozen or so paintings by him still held in a private collection, and sold earlier this month in London for £30.3m ($47.4m). The image above shows the magnificent Italian landscape painting held by two art handlers at Sotheby's London (photo: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images).
2) Edouard Manet's Printimps (Spring), 1881 (right), broke the record for Manet's work as well, selling for $65.1m in New York. Of all the sales that took place this year, only this work was acquired by a museum rather than a private collector, with the Getty bringing another fantastic Manet into their collection.
3) Georgia O'Keeffe's Jimson Weed, White Flower No. 1, 1932, sold for a record $44.4m in November, breaking the record not only for this significant American modernist painter, but setting  a a new bar as the highest price ever paid at auction for a work of art by a woman artist.
4) Alberto Giacometti's Chariot, 1950, sold for $101m. The bronze sculpture of an attenuated woman's figure attached to chariot wheels is not a record, as another work by Giacometti, about which I blogged in the past, still beats it, but this came very close.

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