Barnett Newman - Black Fire I

Barnett Newman
Black Fire I (1961)
Sold for $84,165,000 / £49,657,350 / €61,440,450 at Christie's

Francis Bacon - Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards

Francis Bacon
Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards (1984)
Sold for $80,805,000 / £47,674,950 / €58,987,650 at Christie's

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Untitled

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Untitled (1981)
Sold for $34,885,000 / £20,582,150 / €25,466,050 Christie's

Jeff Koons - Popeye

Jeff Koons
Popeye (2009)
Sold for $28,165,000 / £16,737,000 / €20,499,000 at Sotheby's

Barnett Newman commands art auctions, May 2014

Barnett Newman's 'Black Fire I' was sold for $84,2 million at Christie's historical $745 million auction, while a triptych by Francis Bacon fetched $80,8 million. Sotheby's auction was highlighted by Warhol, Koons and Richter.

May 15th, 2014, source: Christie's / Sotheby's

Newman soars over Bacon, Warhol at Christie's historical $745 million auction

Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art evening sales achieved a combined total of $879,574,000 (£518,948,660/ €642,089,020), which -according to Christie's- represents the highest total for a single auction in art market history. It included an impressive number of "blockbuster" paintings, with five of them (by Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman) carrying the "Estimate on request" label.

The auction had a strong start, with Alexander Calder's "Poisson volant (Flying Fish)" selling for $25,9 million (a new auction record for the artist) after a long bidding battle, more than doubling its pre-sale estimate of $9-12 million. Quickly, two other works sold for more than $20 million: Christopher Wool's "If You" and Gerhard Richter's "Abstraktes Bild (712)".

The first of the five "superstars" to appear at the sale was also the most anticipated one. After the sensational sale of Francis Bacon's "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" for $142,4 million six months ago, his "Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards" was expected to sell for an astronomical price even though it was not even close in terms of quality and historical importance. It went for $80,8 million to an "Asian buyer". Let it go.

And after Francis Bacon, time for Andy Warhol. His "Race Riot" from 1964 was arguably the second most anticipated work at the auction, not surprising after the $105,4 million fetched by his "Silver Car Crash" last November. The lot, which appeared on the auction catalogue cover, was sold to the Gagosian Gallery for $62,9 million. Not really exciting. Three lots later, Warhol's small "White Marilyn" fetched $41 million against a pre-sale estimate of $12-18 million.

The "weakest" of the five "Estimated on request" works was Jeff Koons's "Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train" (1986). Not really the most exciting Koons, it was quickly sold for $33,8 million. On the other hand, Mark Rothko's "Untitled" was a very strong example of Rothko's mastery as a colorist. It realized a very respectable $66,2 million.

And then it came Barnett Newman's "Black Fire I", a large, simple work executed in 1961. Some people call it "dull". Christie's calls it "a sublime Abstract Expressionist masterpiece that perfectly captures the artist’s reductive and uncompromising aesthetic". Choose by yourself. Anyways, it sold for $84,2 million, the most expensive painting sold this year. As you might expect, it was an auction record for the artist.

A very strong "Untitled" (1981) by Jean-Michel Basquiat was sold for $34,9 million. Well deserved. Willem de Kooning’s "Untitled XXXI" realized $21,2 million.

Warhol, Richter and Koons shine at Sotheby's $364,4 million sale

Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Auction totalled $364,379,000, a very respectable sum which, however, pales in comparison with Christie's success. The auction included two works carrying an "Estimate on request" (Basquiat and Koons) and important paintings by Warhol, Klein and Richter.

One of the stars of the auction was Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta", a massive work created in 1983. Sotheby's described it as "a certifiably unrivalled tour-de-force of Basquiat’s output". Well, every collector and connoisseur in the world knows that Basquiat reached his zenith in 1981-82, and any work created after that is not as marketable. Just remember the also monumental "Brother Sausage" that was unsold at Christie's four years ago. The "Undiscovered Genius" fetched $23,7 million.

Andy Warhol's self-mythologizing mania was at its highest level in his "Six Self-Portraits" from 1986. Offered as a unique lot, the portraits realized $30,1 million -the most expensive painting at the auction-, just in the middle of the pre-sale estimate of $25-35 million. The same pre-sale estimate was carried by Gerhard Richter's marvelous "Blau" from 1988. The spectacular work, easily the most beautiful painting in the sale, was sold for $28,7 million. Another Warhol, "Big Electric Chair" (1967) fetched $20,4 million.

"Popeye" was described by Sotheby's as "Jeff Koons’s most accomplished and major work of recent years". Completed in 2009-2011, the work was expected to sell in the region of $25 million and it did, realizing $28,2 million. Jackson Pollock's large "Black and White Painting" (1952) was arguably the bargain of the auction, selling for a modest $8,6 million.

Related content

Record-breaking Bacon at Christie's record-breaking sale (news, November 2013)
Andy Warhol's 'Silver Car Crash' sells for $105 million at Sotheby's (news, November 2013)

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