A large-scale, sunset-colored painting by Mark Rothko fetched $86.9 million at auction on Tuesday, setting a new record for any contemporary work of art, and headlining a stunningly lucrative night for Christie’s in New York.
Orange, red, yellow was as hot on the Christie’s block as the colours on the bold abstract canvas. A thicket of hands shot up to catch the attention of auctioneer Christopher Burge, bids leaping in increments of a million, sometimes two million dollars.
The hammer finally fell at nearly $87 million, including final commission, easily breaking the previous record for Rothko’s most expensive work of $72.84 million and in the process becoming the most expensive contemporary work of art ever at auction, Christie’s said.
Collectors were in full cry all evening, knocking 14 artists’ records down and repeatedly meeting or exceeding pre-sale high estimates.
Total takings of $388.5 million were the highest ever for a contemporary art auction, a record last set in 2007, Christie’s said.
Among the other stars was the spectacular FC1 by Yves Klein, which depicts the X-ray-like outlines of two nude models captured on canvas through a mixture of paint, water and flames.
It had been estimated to fetch up to $40 million. Although the hammer came down at the relatively flat $36.5 million, including commission, that smashed Klein’s previous $23.6 million record.
One of the most exciting bidding wars was for Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild, which sold for $21.8 million, easily beyond the $18 million high estimate, and also a record high for the artist.
Burge was at his best, cajoling, humoring and squeezing the super-wealthy players for every spare million.
“Absolutely not,” he scoffed, when one bidder suggested a modest increase of just $50,000.