Bacon’s Triptych: Most Expensive Artwork Sold at Auction

May 15, 2008

Sotheby’s Contemporary Art evening auction brought in $362 million tonight. (Last night, Christie’s Postwar and Contemporary Art evening auction brought in $331.4 million.) This painting, a triptych by the late Francis Bacon sold for $86.3 million to a “private European phone bidder”, breaking the auction record for a contemporary artwork. It is now the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, surpassing Mark Rothko’s “White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose),” (1950) which brought in $72.8 million at Sotheby’s last year.

bacon triptych

As a resident of New York, I’m just wondering whether we get any trickle-down benefits. Does the buyer pay a sales tax, for example? An 8.375% sales tax on this work would amount to more than $7.2 million. In 2006-7, the average teacher’s salary in NY was at $62,647. Those tax dollars could cover almost 115 teachers’ salaries. A private sale has very public effects.

Contemporary Art Auctions This Week: Recession-Proof?

May 10, 2008

Next Tuesday and Wednesday, NY auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s (respectively) hold their Spring sales for Post-War and Contemporary art. Smaller lots and tighter selections at both houses indicate cautious optimism as the U.S. economy continues to dip and the art market opens up to buyers from Russia, the Middle East, and of course China, who are taking advantage of the weak dollar.


Highlights at Christie’s include Andy Warhol’s “Double Marlon” (1966), Francis Bacon’s triptych “Three Studies for Self-Portrait” (1980), and Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” (1995, pictured) which is expected to reach between $25-35 million, a new auction record for a work by a living artist. (This distinction is now held by Jeff Koons’ “Hanging Heart (Magenta/Gold)”, bought by superdealer Larry Gagosian on behalf of Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk for $23.6 million in November 2007). Sotheby’s top-priced lots include another Bacon, “Triptych, 1976”, Rothko’s “Orange, Red, Yellow”, and a late Warhol “Detail of the Last Supper (Christ 112 Times) Yellow”. Each of these carries an 8-figure starting price tag and the auctions are expected to ring in more than $1 billion in sales next week.

Will the bull market for art continue despite a languishing U.S. economy? From Reuters:

“We’ve taken into account that the U.S. economy has slowed, and some buyers are not in the same situation,” said Marc Porter, Christie’s president.

“But on the other hand, Russian and Middle East collectors are richer than ever,” he told Reuters. “There are enormous amounts of cash piled up,” Porter said. “We’re continuing to see incredible strength for the very best things, especially in the international markets.”

Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art co-chairman David Norman agreed.

“The sliver of super-wealth in the world is still just so extraordinary,” he said, while Chief Executive William Ruprecht noted that oil wealth was stoking the market far more than hedge fund players as many believe.

Oil money STILL rules. Stay tuned for auction results on the 13th and 14th: art always follows the money. Or as blixity says: culture is always tied to capital.