Christies Gonzo Sale Disproves Doubters

In case anyone is still wondering, the contemporary art market is alive and well, given Christie’s gonzo $325 million Post-War and Contemporary Art sale last night. It was the second-highest total in the auction house’s history, shy only of its $385 million result last May, when Andy Warhols Green Car Crash sold for $71 million.

Last night's tally came in healthily above the low estimate of $271 million, but was shy of the $373 million high-water mark.

Fueled by what seemed to be carloads of over-reaching Warhols, the evening was a triumph.

“There’s an absolute wall of money in our world,” said Christie’s C.E.O. Edward Dolman minutes after the sale.

That impression was echoed by various players buttonholed during the stampede out of the Rockefeller Center building following the nearly two-hour-long sale. “It was exuberant,” said New York dealer David Zwirner, who bought Thomas Struths 1990 Pantheon for a record $1,049,000 (est. $500,000–700,000) and underbid the luscious, page-sized Eva Hesse drawing Untitled (1967), which made $1,833,000 (est. $800,000–1.2 million). “The gloom-sayers should try to figure out where the gloom is. This market isn’t as connected to the sub-prime market as some people think.”

Players went out of their way to contradict the negative press pundits predicting the market was sinking.

“There was good bidding for overvalued work,” said New York art adviser Allan Schwartzman, “and great bidding on great works. People were expecting some bumps, but I didn’t see any.”

Only five of the 67 lots failed to find buyers, for a svelte 7 percent buy-in rate by lot. The priciest of those was lot 32, Donald Judds stack of galvanized iron and transparent red Plexiglas, Untitled (1979) (79-40 Bernstein). The work, which carried a financial guarantee, died at a chandelier-bid-aided $6.5 million (est. $7–9 million).

Christie’s had risked about $170 million in guarantees, according to a source in the company, but escaped with a seemingly hefty profit.

Fifty-one lots sold for over a million dollars and a dozen artist records were set, including for Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, Lucian Freud, and Richard Prince.

Even with the weak dollar, Americans led the charge, scooping up 50.8 percent of the lots, followed by Europeans at 26.2 percent, Asians at 6.6 percent, and “other” at 17.3 percent.

Christie’s stellar performance on Monday evening with the $52.4 million sale Selections from the Allan Stone Collection evidently boosted confidence and helped set the stage for last night’s remarkably buoyant result.

Click on the photo gallery above for images and analysis of the sale's top lots.

Judd Tully is editor at large for
Art & Auction.