By Mary Mullaj
Contemporary art sales at Christie’s auction house last week were inconsistent, didn’t follow predictions, yet still managed to set a few records. Some art sold for more than expected, and some (around a third) not at all. The auction appeared to belong to buyers, with collectors’ bids not following professional predictions whatsoever. In the end, collectors came out on top while Christie’s had several expensive losses, several of which were because of guarunteed works, meaning that an undisclosed sum was promised to the seller regardless of the outcome of the sale.
Highlights of the auction included records set for price. One example is a Joseph Cornell box entitled “Pharmacy”, that was bid on by four people and finally sold for $3.7 million. It was a record price for the artist at auction. Another record was set when a gold and silver 1959 canvas by Yayoi Kusama was sold for $5.7 mllion, far above its high estimate of $3.5 million.
Artists that have had museum exposure tend to do better at auction, but Takashi Murakami did not do well at auction in spite of retrospectives at the MOCA in LA and at the Brooklyn Museum. His work sold below the low estimate. Despite the recent popularity of artist Richard Prince, whose nurse paintings have been purchased for up to $8.4 million, his guarunteed “Lake Resort Nurse” was bought for $2 million les than its estimated price.
Much of the art that was expected to do the best did not sell at all. For example a 1964 self-portrait by Francis Bacon, estimated at $40 million, that was considered to be the most desirable piece in the auction, remained unsold. The same went for Warhol, much of which (although guaranteed) failed to sell at Wednesday’s auction.
In total, sales brought in $113. 6 million rather than the low estimate of $227 million.