At $142.4 Million, Triptych Is the Most Expensive Artwork Ever Sold at an Auction
By CAROL VOGEL
Published: November 12, 2013
It took seven superrich bidders to propel a 1969 Francis Bacon triptych to $142.4 million at Christie’s on Tuesday night, making it the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. William Acquavella, the New York dealer, is thought to have bought the painting on behalf of an unidentified client, from one of Christie’s skyboxes overlooking the auction.
The price for the painting, which depicts Lucian Freud, Bacon’s friend and rival, perched on a wooden chair, was more than the $85 million Christie’s had estimated. It also toppled the previous record set in May 2012 when Edvard Munch’s fabled pastel of “The Scream” sold at Sotheby’s for $119.9 million and broke the previous record for the artist at auction set at the peak of the market in May 2008, when Sotheby’s sold a triptych from 1976 to the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich for $86.2 million.
When the bidding for “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” finally stopped, after more than 10 fraught minutes, the overflowing crowd in the salesroom burst into applause. Two disappointed bidders could be seen leaving the room. “I went to $101 million but it hardly mattered,” said Larry Gagosian, the super-dealer who was trying to buy the painting on behalf of a client. Another contender was Hong Gyu Shin, the director of the Shin Gallery on Grand Street in Manhattan, who said he was bidding for himself.
“I was expecting it to go for around $87 million,” Mr. Shin said. Although he explained that he collects mostly Japanese woodblock prints and old master paintings, he found the triptych by the Irish-born painter, who died in 1992, irresistible. “I loved that painting and I couldn’t control myself,” he said. “Maybe someday I’ll have another chance.”
For more than a month now, Christie’s has been billing the sale as a landmark event with a greater number of paintings and sculptures estimated to sell for over $20 million than it has ever had before. The hard sell apparently worked. Nearly 10,000 visitors flocked to its galleries to preview the auction. The sale totaled $691.5 million, far above Christie’s $670.4 million high estimate, becoming the most expensive auction ever. It outstripped the $495 million total set at Christie’s in May.
Of the 69 works on offer, only six failed to sell. All told, 10 world record prices were achieved for artists who, besides Bacon, included Christopher Wool, Ad Reinhardt, Donald Judd and Willem de Kooning.
The sale was also a place to see and be seen. Christie’s Rockefeller Center salesroom was standing room only, with collectors including Michael Ovitz, the Los Angeles talent agent; Aby Rosen, the New York real estate developer; Martin Margulies, from Miami; Donald B. Marron, the New York financier; and Daniel S. Loeb, the activist investor and hedge fund manager.
The Bacon triptych was not the only highflier. A 10-foot-tall mirror-polished stainless steel sculpture that resembled a child’s party favor, Jeff Koons’s “Balloon Dog (Orange)” sold to another telephone bidder for $58.4 million, above its high $55 million estimate, becoming the most expensive work by a living artist sold at auction. The pooch was being sold by Peter M. Brant, the newsprint magnate who auctioned the canine to raise money to endow his Greenwich, Conn., foundation. In the 1990s, Mr. Koons had created the sculpture in an edition of five, each in a different color. Four celebrated collectors own the others: Steven A. Cohen, the hedge-fund billionaire, has a yellow one; Eli Broad, the Los Angeles financier, owns a blue one; François Pinault, the French luxury goods magnate and owner of Christie’s, has the magenta version; and Dakis Joannou, the Greek industrialist, has his in red. Christie’s had estimated Mr. Brant’s sculpture would fetch $35 million to $55 million.
(Final prices include the buyer’s premium: 25 percent of the first $100,000; 20 percent of the next $100,000 to $2 million; and 12 percent of the rest. Estimates do not reflect commissions.)
Another strong price was set for a classic image in contemporary art history — Andy Warhol’s “Coca Cola ,” one of only four paintings of a single Coca-Cola bottle that the artist made in 1961 and 1962. Jose Mugrabi, the New York dealer, bought the painting from S. I. Newhouse Jr. in 1986 and he was said to be selling it on Tuesday night. That painting made $57.2 million. It had been estimated to sell for $40 million to $60 million.
Three bidders went for Rothko’s “No. 11 (Untitled),” one of the artist’s abstract canvases, this one in an orange palette and created in 1957. It was being sold by the estate of Bruce J. Wasserstein, the financier who died in 2009. Christophe van de Weghe, a Manhattan dealer, bought the painting for $46 million, above its high $35 million estimate. Mr. van de Weghe also bought “Apocalypse Now,” a seminal painting by Mr. Wool, whose work is currently the subject of a major retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum. Bidding on behalf of a client, he paid $26.4 million for the painting. Created in 1988, the white canvas is filled with the words “Sell the House Sell the Car Sell the Kids,” a line from the Francis Ford Coppola movie of the same title. The painting belonged to David Ganek, the former New York hedge fund manager and Guggenheim board member. Mr. Ganek has since resigned from the board.
After the sale, Jussi Pylkkänen, chairman of Christie’s Europe and the evening’s auctioneer, noted how international the bidding was. Besides a healthy showing of American bidders, there were also a lot of potential buyers from Asia and Europe trying to get into the action. “There were more players from the New World than ever before,” he said, “and more people spending over $20 million.
“But,” he warned, in order to have such a successful sale, “you have to have the material.”
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At $142.4 Million, Triptych Is the Most Expensive Artwork Ever Sold at an Auction - Art & Design - The New York Times