Takashi Murakami's Charity Auction at Christie's Raises a "Heartwarming" $9 Million for Japanese Earthquake Relief

Takashi Murakami's Charity Auction at Christie's Raises a "Heartwarming" $9 Million for Japanese Earthquake Relief

Leave it to Takashi Murakami to pack the Christie's salesroom at 9:30 a.m. in the morning — and in doing so raise over $8,756,100 million from the likes of François Pinault, the auction house's owner, and megadealer Larry Gagosian. Murakami's "New Day: Artists for Japan" charity sale was held Wednesday morning to benefit those affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that hit the northeastern part of Japan off the coast of Tohoku. Though Murakami and Christie's chose the earliest time slot available in New York so that bidders watching the online broadcast in Asia could participate, collectors and dealers in town for the contemporary sales trickled into the salesroom — along with a slew of fans looking for the chance at a photo with Murakami — until it was standing-room-only. 

After emotional opening remarks by Murakami and a poem recited by Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, Los Angeles-based Christie's auctioneer Andrea Fiuczynski stepped to the podium and a furious hour of bidding began. The auction was 100 percent sold, with one artist record set — a $155,000 hammer price for KAWS's  "Kawsbob Enters the Strange Forest" (2011) — and many totals substantially above the pre-sale estimates, helped along by Fiuczynski's considerable charm. Murakami — who was too focused on preparing his opening remarks to speak to ARTINFO before the sale — noted afterward that estimates were kept purposefully low to encourage bidding for charity. Still, even he was surprised by the prices fetched. "I'm very appreciative for that," he said, adding that he found the turnout and sale total for his auction "heartwarming."

Christie's did not forego it's customary buyers' premium as it did for its last major charity auction, the David Zwirner and Ben Stiller-organized "Artists for Haiti," but did note that the net proceeds of the premiums — after the costs of putting on the sale were covered — would be donated to charity along with the full hammer-price totals.  

The record for a work by KAWS was set after a bidding war between the artist's own Paris-based dealer, Emmanuel Perrotin (who has also represented Murakami for 18 years), and one of his clients. "Kawsbob Enters the Strange Forest" (2011), appropriates both the familiar cartoon face of SpongeBob SquarePants and the multi-colored flower of Murakami's 2006 work "Rainbow Flower." The price grew in $10,000 increments and quickly exceeded the high estimate of $40,000 — eventually reaching well into six figures. For a moment it looked like it was going to go to Perrotin, but a half-increment bid from the center of the room raised the price from $150,000 to $155,000 and the dealer bowed out. After the sale he remarked that he let his client have the work. "I realized he must really want it," Perrotin explained. 

Gagosian, who as Murakami's New York dealer previewed the sale at his Madison Avenue gallery, took home a work by Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi entitled "Watermelon" (2011). Competing against a determined phone bidder, Gagosian finally won the work for a hammer price of $180,000 (est. $60,000-80,000).

Murakami himself contributed four works to the sale that he had created with the earthquake on his mind, and all of them sold high above their estimates. The most successful of the four was the first lot of the day, a large image of the artist's DOB character titled "And Then and Then and Then and Then and Then. Yellow Universe" (2011).  Bidding started at the high estimate ($400,000) and continued until a phone bidder finally got the hammer at $780,000.

The highest total of the day was the $1 million hammer price for Jeff Koons's "Balloon Monkey Wall Relief" (2011, est. $600,000-800,000) — a nine-by-eight-foot steel relief of a balloon monkey — that was paid by an anonymous party. Meanwhile, one of the only works to perform below its estimate was "Love-In" (2008), a heart-shaped butterfly painting by Damien Hirst (est. $500,000-700,000), which was sold to a bidder standing in the back of the room for a hammer of $320,000.

The other bargain of the day was snapped up by Pinault, who sat with Murakami at the front and center of the room. He bid with curt nods to Fiuczynsky, and grabbed Luc Tuymans's 2011 painting "Shore" for $260,000 (est. $300,000-350,000). He was the underbidder for at least two other works, Yoshitomo Nara's 2011 "Lone Star" and Thomas Houseago's 2011 "Midnight Mast III." As we said before, it's nice to have friends like Pinault.