It was a packed house at Christie’s post-war and Contemporary evening sale on Tuesday night. Judging by the crowd, you’d think times are much more flush than they really are. But, apparently nothing brings out the 1 percent like whispers of a cooling art market. Are they looking for a good deal? Or do they just want to see the bubble slowly burst?
Sotheby’s may have set a terrifying tone Monday night with its disappointing Impressionist and Modern art sale, but Christie’s faired far better on Tuesday. Their evening sale totaled $318.4 million, with premiums, and landed just between pre-sale estimates of $285.6-398.2 million, with 87 percent of the 60 lots on offer sold.
An untitled painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat broke the artist’s world auction record, selling for $57.3 million at Christie’s
“84 percent of the works were never auctioned before,” said vice president and head of evening sale Sara Friedlander. “Enormous freshness and quality prevailed.”
To top it off, the house managed to set an impressive new record with the $57.3 million sale of an untitled 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, completed when the artist was only 22 years old. The work surpassed an estimate only described by the press release as “in excess of $40 million,” and sold to an Asian buyer, in a record for the artist at auction. Basquiat’s previous high mark was set by Christie’s in May 2013 with a painting from the same year titled Dustheads.
“It’s a tribute to this painting that we’re making records at a time when we’re not expected to be making them,” said international head of post-war and Contemporary Brett Gorvy.
The Basquiat buyer was revealed by the house to be 40-year-old Japanese businessman Yusaku Maezawa, founder of the online fashion retailer Zozotown and the Tokyo-based organization Contemporary Art Foundation. Mr. Maezawa is valued at $2.7 billion and currently ranked Japan’s 17th richest person, according toForbes.
“When I encountered the work at the Christie’s New York preview, I had an immediate visceral connection it. Generationally, I relate to Basquiat’s culture and the essence of his life story,” said Mr. Maezawa in a statement. “Rather than monetary or investment value, I felt I had a personal responsibility to take care of this masterpiece and preserve it for the next generation.”
Mr. Maezawa also purchased four other works at the sale—Richard Prince’sRunaway Nurse ($9.6 million), Jeff Koons’ Lobster ($6.8 million), Alexander Calder’sSumac 17 ($5.7 million) and Bruce Nauman’s Eat War ($1.7 million)—spending a total of $81.3 million. He plans to exhibit the Basquiat publicly through his art foundation.