Well, it worked. Christie’s set out to achieve a record for Contemporary art with Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud and they wound up setting the overall record for a work of art at auction at $142m. The bidding was strong with three players still in the game above $120m. One was bidding through a telephone manned by a Chinese-speaking Christie’s employee but the ultimate winner at $127m before fees turned out to be Acquavella Galleries bidding on behalf of a client.
Just as with last week’s top lot, the Giacometti bust of Diego, Acquavella won the week even before it was over.
When the bidding finally stopped, after more than 10 fraught minutes, the capacity crowd in the salesroom burst into applause. Two disappointed bidders could be seen leaving the room. “I went to $101 million but it hardly mattered,” said Larry Gagosian, the super-dealer who was trying to buy the painting on behalf of a client. Another contender was Hong Gyu Shin, the director of the Shin Gallery on Grand Street in Manhattan, who said he was bidding for himself.
“I was expecting it to go for around $87 million,” Mr. Shin said. Although he said he collects Japanese woodblock prints and old master paintings, he found the triptych irresistible. “I loved that painting and I couldn’t control myself,” he said. “Maybe someday I’ll have another chance.”
Kelly Crow got a little more color out of the young bidder:
Mr. Hong, a young man with dimples and scruffy, black hair, said afterward that he was bidding for his own collection and was “amazed” that he lost out. He said he began collecting Japanese and Impressionist art four years ago, but he started adding more contemporary art to his holdings last year after he opened a gallery for Korean contemporary art on New York’s Lower East Side. He called Bacon “one of my favorite artists.”
“The bidding tonight was just so much stronger than I expected,” he said, adding, “My parents don’t even know I’m here. Maybe it’s good I didn’t win it.”