Christie’s contemporary art sale achieves $745 million in one evening

Here is one way of looking at Christie’s recent, record-breaking sale of post-war and contemporary art, which in one evening racked up $745 million (approximately £444 million) – it absolutely thumped the auction house’s impressionist bonanza.

Taking place in early May, that recorded $286 million (£170 million) and was considered by many to be a very respectable effort. Claude Monet’s Nymphaes was snapped up for $27 million (£17 million), 89 per cent of all works on offer went to buyers and, at all levels, works sold very well.

Brooke Lampley, head of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s, said that this remarkable feat was “testament to the incredible breadth in our marketplace”. A similar sentiment was shared by her colleague Brett Gorvy, chairman and head of post-war and contemporary art at the auction house.

“These are incredible statistics,” he remarked, the brevity of his remarks indicative of his, and everyone else’s, disbelief. Yes, times are good, really good in fact, but numbers like this remain hard to comprehend.

For the last few years, the post-war and contemporary art market has been recording one astonishing sale after the other, with buyers demonstrating an insatiable appetite for works that fall under this category. There appears to be no limits to what some collectors and investors are willing to pay.

As an example of how staggering Christie’s sale is, consider the Wall Street Journal’s Kelly Crow’s contextualisation. The auction house recorded $745 million “in less time than it takes to watch a basketball match”.

The evening sale also demonstrated how it is difficult to predict how certain works of art will perform. A case in point was the $84.2 million (£50.1 million) achieved by Black Fire I, a work by the American abstract expressionist Barnett Newman.

Previous to this record for the late artist, who is best remembered for his inimitable ‘zip’ style, the most ever paid for one his works was half that total. This confirms, more or less, that the energy and enthusiasm for post-war and contemporary art is part of a wider and now established trend.

The ‘corner of the room’ chatter of a bubble has never materialised and, furthermore, there is nothing to suggest that the market is reaching saturation point. These are, after all, early days – the European Fine Art Foundation’s annual report revealed that in 2013, the global art market rose by eight per cent to $65.9 billion (£39.1 billion).

This is the highest level since before the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and seemingly not a pinnacle. Economies are growing, confidence is returning and buyers are willing to spend as much as they want without feeling as though they are taking a big gamble. There is real talk of an evening auction surpassing one billion for post-war and contemporary art. If not in 2014, then certainly 2015.

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