On May 14 at Sotheby’s New York, the Contemporary Art Evening sale totalled $293,587,000, and was 82.8% sold-by-lot. There were exceptional prices for works from every decade from the 1940s throughout with records set for Barnett Newman and Gerhard Richter, among others. The price achieved for Richter’s masterwork also established a new benchmark for any living artist at auction. The global nature of today’s art market was yet again underlined with collectors from 35 countries registering to bid in the sale, 20% of whom were new to either Sotheby’s or the category.
The sale was led by Barnett Newman’s Onement VI, which sold for $43,845,000 after competition among five bidders – that price eclipses Newman’s previous auction record by a margin of more than $20 million. The monumental 1953 painting is the most important work by the artist ever to appear at auction and stands as a masterwork not only of Newman’s artistic enterprise, but of the entire Abstract Expressionist movement. Domplatz, Mailand by Gerhard Richter sold for $37,125,000 – a record both for Richter at auction and for any living artist at auction. The work stands as the epitome of the artist’s celebrated 1960s photo-painting canon and is a masterpiece of 20th century art. The price for the monumental canvas achieved this evening is more than 10 times the then-record price it commanded at Sotheby’s London 15 years ago.
The auction also featured a series of works to benefit the Whitney Museum of American Art’s new building project. All eight works offered this evening sold, bringing a total of $11,806,000, nearly double the high estimate of $6.6 million. Other highlights of the sale included The Blue Unconscious by Jackson Pollock, painted in the critical year of 1946, which fetched $20,885,000; the monumental Sculpture eponge bleue sans titre, SE 168 by Yves Klein, which set a new record for a sculpture by the artist when it sold for $22,005,000; Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park No. 46 from 1971, which fetched $11,085,000 (estimate $6/8 million); and Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Bolsena) from 1969, which made $15,397,000 – the second highest price for the artist at auction (estimate $10/15 million).