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Great artists may craft their works motivated by passion rather than the potential price tag, but anyone who thinks that great art is not also a big business need look no farther than New York City this week for a summary reeducation. At some of the most renowned auction houses in the world—Christie’s and Sotherby’s, to name two of the finest—some of the highest rollers in the crossover world of business and the arts dished out staggering sums of cash for works this week. Some collect for the love of the work, while some hope the art will go to work for them, proving a lucrative investment.
5 A Big Week for the Abstract Expressionists
More than half a century after their heyday, the painters of the Abstract Expressionist movement are in ever higher demand, and their works are fetching ever higher prices. This week, an untitled canvas by Mark Rothko sold for $46 million and a Jackson Pollock, “Number 16,” fetched more than $32.5 million; a Willem de Kooning went for just $500k less, selling for $32 million, while a Roy Lichtenstein canvas came in just under that at $31.5 million. It was a great week for the late artists, and for Christie’s, the auction house that handled all the sales.
4 Jeff Koons Sells Big
For any artist, living or dead, selling a single piece of artwork for a seven figure price tag is a staggering feat. Sculptor Jeff Koons accomplished this feat with flying colors this week, bright orange being the main color. His massive “Balloon Dog (Orange)” is just about what it sounds like: a sculpture of a twelve foot high orange balloon dog. And it sold for an equally gigantic price. The huge, colorful canine statue fetched more than $58.4 million dollars, potentially the largest sum ever paid for a living artist.
3 Steven A. Cohen Sells Out
Mildly disgraced latter-day wunderkind hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen recently put a number of works from his private collection up for auction at Sotheby’s, and the art world has been quietly buzzing about it all week. This is true both because Mr. Cohen holds an expansive and eclectic collection, and also because he and his organization, SAC Capital Advisors, have been under intense scrutiny recently due to a settlement paid to the Feds after an intensive investigation into the firm’s alleged insider trading activity. Cohen’s art sold for a combined figure of around $88 million, though he himself likely made less money, having agreed to a fixed price before the sales commenced.
2 Another Record Sale for Warhol
Andy Warhol is beloved by many, loathed by some and misunderstood by others, but he is nothing if not a commodity. That was reconfirmed this week as his collage of paintings/photos depicting an auto accident titled “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” from 1963 sold for $105,445,000—a record for the late artist. A second Warhol, this one a depiction of the iconic tapered Coca-Cola bottle (aptly titled “Coca-Cola (3)”) sold for a little over $57 million, rounding out an amazing week for Warhol.
1 Francis Bacon Sale Shatters Records
After a few minutes of intense bidding, a new worldwide record was recently set for the sale price of a single work of art: $142,400 million. Technically, the single work consists of a triptych of three paintings, of course, but that does nothing to reduce the immensity of the sale, which blasted past the previous record of $120 million set in 2012 by Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” The apparently nearly-priceless work is one Bacon painted in 1969 and is titled “Three Studies of Lucian Freud.” Indeed the three canvas display just that: three variations on Freud, himself a fine painter and a friend of Bacon’s, seated casually as he is captured in paint.