Mar 20, 2018

Auction Houses Are Selling Art For Record Prices

The art market is booming, and two major London auction houses are proving it with their unprecedented sales this month.

Auction house Phillips set a new record earlier this month, generating £108.4 million over the course of two days. The highest-selling lot, Pablo Picasso’s “Sleeping” (1932) sold for £37 million. Five collectors fought over the portrait of Picasso’s muse, Marie-Therese Walter, until it went to an anonymous buyer over the phone. The price was influenced by the exhibition “Picasso –1932. Love, Glory, Tragedy,” taking place in the Tate Modern. Henri Matisse’s sculpture “Lying Nude” went for £13 million, and a work by American artist Mark Bradford, who represented the US at the last Venice Biennale, sold for for £7.5 million, a record amount for the artist.

Image: Pablo Picasso. Sleeping, 1932. © Phillips

Revered auction house Christie’s set its own record nearly at the same time. On the evening of March 6, it generated £137.9 million after commission, the best result in history for the “Contemporary Art” category in Europe. 24 pieces of artwork were sold for over £1 million after fees, and seven of them exceeded exceeded £5 million.

Several masterpieces of worldwide importance were among the 60 lots that were sold. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s acrylic and oil painting “Multiflavors”(1982) went to an anonymous telephone bidder for £10.5 million, having previously sold in Paris in 1990 for more than$118,000 USD.

Image: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Multiflavors, 1982. © Christie’s Images Limited 2018.

Andy Warhol’s “Six Self-Portraits” (1986) went to a telephone bidder for £22.6 million after fees, exceeding the conservative sale estimate of £16 million. Another highly valued work, Lucio Fontana’s “Concetto spaziale, Attese” (1965), went to a telephone bidder for £8.6 million after fees. It had previously sold at Sotheby’s London in July 1998 for £529,000.

Analysts suggest the rising profile of art auctions is a sign that previous art market crises are thoroughly  in the past. “It’s a reaffirmation of the solidity of the market and the value of great art,” said says art mega-dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, who has galleries in Paris, London, and Salzburg.