Frenzy of spending in the international art market
Global big spenders bought contemporary art, luxury watches and huge diamonds in a record-breaking series of auctions this week
At Sotheby’s, Geneva, ‘The Pink Star’, the 59.6-carat internally flawless fancy vivid pink diamond, sold for $81.3 million (€60.5 million) and was immediately renamed The ‘Pink Dream’ by its new owner
Francis Bacon, “that man who paints those dreadful pictures”, as Margaret Thatcher famously described him, has had the last laugh from beyond the grave. The Dublin-born artist’s triptych painting Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for $142.4 million (€105.3m) at Christie’s auction of postwar and contemporary art in New York on Tuesday night and instantly entered the record books as the most valuable artwork ever sold at auction.
Bidding lasted six minutes and when the hammer fell the saleroom burst into applause. Conspicuous consumption is back. A Wall Street Journal report quoted one auction-goer’s reaction afterwards: “Wow, wow, wow, what a staggering moment for the art market.” But the stupendous price was not the only auction record broken this week as the world’s super-rich spent well over $1billion on paintings and jewels which went under the hammer in New York and Geneva.
Gems in Geneva
A three-session auction of watches at Christie’s Geneva realised a combined total of $43.9 million ($32.8m), the highest ever result for a series of watch sales. The top lot was a 1957 Patek Philippe pink gold watch which made $2.1 million. Christie’s said the auction was “repeatedly interrupted by the applauding audience” and “the last exciting session of the week was crowned by a standing ovation”.
Also in Geneva, Christie’s sold a pear-shaped, fancy vivid orange, VS1 diamond of 14.82 carats for $35.5 million, double the estimate. At Sotheby’s, Geneva, on Wednesday “The Pink Star”, the most valuable diamond ever to be offered at auction, the 59.6-carat internally flawless fancy vivid pink diamond sold for $81.3 million and was immediately renamed the “Pink Dream” by its new owner.
Big New York spenders
In New York, Christie’s sale achieved more than $691 million (€511 million), the highest total for an auction sale in art market history. Apart from the Francis Bacon, other highlights were a monumental polished stainless-steel sculpture, Balloon Dog (Orange), by American artist Jeff Koons, which made $58.5 million, a world auction record for a living artist; and a painting of a Coca-Cola bottle by Andy Warhol, titled Coca Cola 3, which made $57.2 million.
On Wednesday, Sotheby’s New York sold Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) by Andy Warhol for $105 million (€78m), a new world auction record for the artist.
The week’s spectacular prices prompted extensive reaction. Reuters reported the comments of Todd Levin, the director of Levin Art Group in New York, who said: “What we are experiencing now is a kind of melt-up in the market. It is a combination of tremendous surplus capital, and the need of this small band of ultra-high-net-worth individuals to invest all that surplus cash in assets that will appreciate.
“Art, for better or worse, is one of these places that they feel is a safe haven to put their money to work.”