“And now …” Sotheby’s auctioneer, Tobias Meyer, said as Mark Rothko’s “White Center” (1950) came up for bids at last night’s auction of contemporary art. The audience laughed at the obvious tease, but soon fell silent as bidding easily surpassed the painting’s impressive estimate of $40 million. When the action stopped at $65 million ($72.84 million with the buyer’s premium), the painting’s owner, David Rockefeller, who was watching from a sky box above the selling floor, said, “I’m sorry to see it go.”
The boiling hot Postwar and Contemporary art market generated plenty of steam last night. Not only did the Rothko make a record price, but Francis Bacon’s “Study From Innocent X” (1962) went for $52.68 million (with buyer’s premium) and 13 other works reached record prices as well.
The sale at Sotheby’s totaled $254 million, just below the high estimate of $265 million, with 88% of the lots sold. The breathtaking Rothko price sucked the air out of the room briefly, causing three lots in a row following it to fail. The other big miss of the night was Jackson Pollock, who had three different works in the sale from three separate owners. Despite huge private sales last year, each of the Pollocks whiffed.
The much anticipated Peter Doig painting, “The Architect’s Home in the Ravine” (1991), sold for $3.2 million, well above the high estimate. Richard Prince’s “Dude Ranch Nurse #2” (2002) was knocked down at $2.2 million. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Untitled” (1981) nearly doubled its estimate, going for $13 million. Tom Wesselmann’s “Smoker #17” (1975) set a new record for the artist at $5.2 million. The previous record had been set less than 30 minutes before, when the artist’s “Still Life #16” (1962) sold for $3.2 million.
Other impressive prices came when Hans Hoffmann’s “Jardin D’Amour” (1959) sold for $1.8 million and Yayoi Kusama’s “Untitled (Infinity Net Series)” (1959) tripled the high estimate of $400,000, finally falling for $1.35 million.