Contemporary art is making headline news this month. California’s role as trendsetter and the much anticipated opening of the Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles next year are pivoting the spotlight of spectacular auction results in New York to the art studios and museums of Southern California.
A quick review of the stellar results of the November contemporary art auctions can put this in perspective. This includes a new world’s record for the highest price ever paid for art sold at auction. That was $142.4 million for a triptych by Francis Bacon. Titled “Three Studies of Lucien Freud,” the work was exhibited in London as a feature at the Frieze Art Fair by Christie’s Auction House. This success points to another way that art fairs and art auctions work together to advance art appreciation. A striking tribute to the genre of art as a narrative, the three panels present a study of Freud’s personality that add a new dimension to the word “Freudian.”
The Christie’s Autumn Contemporary Art Auction also set a record for the highest price paid for a work of art by a living artist. The amount was $58.4 million for an orange colored aluminum sculpture of an elephant sized dog by Jeff Koons. Sculptures in this style by Koons are featured at the Broad Museum of Contemporary Art at LACMA . Koons will appear in person in Los Angeles on February 24 as part of a speaker series organized by The Broad Museum of downtown Los Angeles. The event will take place at the Orpheum Theater, since the new landmark Broad Museum will not open until next autumn.
Not to be outdone by Christie’s, Sotheby’s set a new world record for an auction sale of a work by Andy Warhol. "Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)" reached $105.4 million at the end of very competitive bidding. Last year’s special exhibition “Regarding Warhol” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other Warhol retrospectives like the 2013 exhibition by Milan’s Museum of The Twentieth Century, have elevated the stature of the artist to rank among the most distinguished of all time.
These records added up. The combined total sales of Post War and Contemporary Art by Sotheby’s and Christie’s in New York last week were just under $1.1 billion. Yes, that’s billion with a “B.” The continued upward march of prices for investment grade art means that another billion dollar art record is taking place this year, almost unnoticed. The “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci, was last estimated to be worth $800 million in a 2009 art appraisal, but the constellation of art price records set this autumn have vaulted the market valuation of the “Mona Lisa” over the $ 1 billion benchmark.
While $142.4 million is a record for art sold at auction, rare works of art sometimes sell for more than that. They are not sold at auction for a practical reason – there are not enough wealthy individuals or businesses with over $100 million to spend on a single work of art to support a fast paced auction style sale. These very large art transactions are typically handled by premiere art dealers and often involve complexities not seen at auctions, such as partial payment with exchanges of less expensive works of art and co-investments by several different buyers pooling their resources.
Will there be new records set when the 2014 Los Angeles Art Show opens January 15? With the market headed upwards this dramatically, you can count on it.