Five Most expensive art pieces sold at the recent Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions

  • Art auctions
  • Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face) by Jean-Michel Basquiat
  • No 1 (1949) by Mark Rothko
  • Eisberg by Gerhard Richter
  • Cobourg 3+1 More by Peter Doig
  • Etre et pariître (To Be and to Seem) by Jean Dubuffet

Auctions have long been heralded the art world’s blood sport – and for good reason. Wealthy collectors and speculators convene to wage a bidding war for the most coveted works coming into the market. The results of this eternal dance can be unpredictable to the hilt, and in addition, they set the tone for movement in art sales. Successful sales and record auction prices are indicative of market sentiment and can buoy the market in a particular direction, unrelentingly. On the converse side, subpar auctions can undermine confidence and market sentiment, rippling through the art world.

We take a look at the recent Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction and Christie’s Post War & Contemporary Art Evening Auction held in London early March, where record-breaking prices and remarkable sell-through rates have indicated a clear signal that this is a seller’s market. Sales came in at the second-highest total ever for a London post-war and contemporary evening auction season, with the last peak reached in February 2015. Here are the top five pieces that were sold at the auctions. As all would have expected, the most expensive art pieces each commanded eight-figure price tags.

2. Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face) by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Price: £11,971,250
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening auction

This was the much-touted landmark Basquiat earmarked to lead Sotheby’s auction. The work is in the top-tier of the artist’s cycle of full-length male figures – always with arms aloft and often depicted with a studded halo or roughly-hewn crown. Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face) represents a critical milestone in his skein, being the first time the artist integrated a sheet of Xerox collage as the centrepiece of such a major work. Painted in 1982, this seminal work represents Basquiat at his zenith.

3. No 1 (1949) by Mark Rothko

Price: £10,693,000 (S$18,533,107)
Christie’s Post War & Contemporary Art Evening Auction

Although this was one of three works realised in excess of £10 million, the painting still sold for well under the €24 million ($36.12 million) it fetched in 2008. While Rothko himself did not self-identify with any one particular art movement, he is most generally viewed as an abstract expressionist. Here, aegean blue is juxtaposed with yellow hues and orange undertones, to detail space and light. Rothko’s trope was his fluid mode of expression and with this painting, there is an articulated sense of hidden shadows and veiled illumination.

4. Eisberg by Gerhard Richter

Price: £17,708,750 (S$30,692,805)
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening auction

In its first substantial auction this year, Sotheby’s realised the sum of £118 million (S$204 million) for 57 lots, with four unsold, breaking five artist records in the process. The auction house had highlighted the strength of the German artists in their sale, and the top lot was an unrelentingly piercing painting of an iceberg by German painter Gerhard Richter, closed well beyond the £8 to £12 million (S$13 – S$20 million) estimate it was pegged at. The painter, through his medium, explores the interplay between abstraction and realism. It may be hard to believe, but Richter has previously expressed astonishment for the astronomical sums paid for his works.

5. Cobourg 3+1 More by Peter Doig

Price: £12,709,000 (S$22,027,238)
Christie’s Post War & Contemporary Art Evening Auction

During the auction, the atmosphere was rife with adrenaline and dominated by competitive and unyielding bidding, with three works realising in excess of £10 million, including buyer’s premium. Artist Peter Doig’s captivating and detailed execution of a landscape of mist and snow was a highlight of the auction. Doig captures the transitory state between waking and dreaming, with this work almost exclusively dedicated to this subtext, as he reaches out for an ephemeral memory just beyond his grasp.

6. Etre et pariitre (To Be and to Seem) by Jean Dubuffet

Price: £10,021,000 ($17,354,367)
Christie’s Post War & Contemporary Art Evening Auction

The artist was a champion of Art Brut, a label created by Dubuffet to describe the untrained art movement. Capturing art formed beyond the boundaries of the norm and away from the mainstream, this was Dubuffet’s cri de coeur and his praxis. However, Etre et paraitre was part of a vast body of work known as Hourloupes, which had their serendipitous beginnings in doodling. Creating interlocking forms with linear shades would take up most of Dubuffet’s artistic endeavours thereafter. In the same auction, another lot of Jean Dubuffet’s work, Lot 9, was one of the record-breaking sales for Christie’s. Deux Arabes gesticulant sold for £1,109,000, (S$1,920,566) an auction high for a work on paper.

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Published 21st March 2017
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