Bacon, Warhol earn 2013's top auction prices

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.

The priciest segment of the art market surged to record highs in 2013 amid demand from established collectors and wealthy new buyers from emerging-market economies.

The top 10 auction lots of 2013 raised $752.2 million, a 27 percent increase from 2012 and an 82 percent jump from 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Every item in the group fetched more than $45 million. In November, Christie's International sold $692 million of art in less than three hours, the highest auction tally ever.

"The top end of the market used to be $10 million; now it's $50 million," said Philip Hoffman, chief executive of the London-based Fine Art Fund. "The auction houses are getting new super-rich clients from China, Russia and the Middle East. These are very wealthy families and they want something amazing."

Collectors are bidding up art prices as easy-money policies among central banks and rising global stock markets boost the fortunes of the world's richest people. The combined wealth of the top 200 billionaires has surged by $422.2 billion this year through Dec. 20, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol took the top two spots in 2013, and Jeff Koons created an auction record for a living artist. The list was dominated by post-1950 works.

Evening sales of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art at Christie's and Sotheby's in London and New York rose to $3.9 billion, compared with $3.8 billion last year. Postwar and contemporary art sales were $2.3 billion, unchanged from the year ago, according to Bloomberg calculations.

"A few of these groundbreaking records can skew overall auction results and create artificially rosy picture for the broader market which may be softer than these sales otherwise suggest," said Noah Horowitz, author of "Art of the Deal: Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market" and executive director of the Armory Show.

Here are the top 10 lots of the year.

1. Bacon's 1969 "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" became the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction when it fetched $142.4 million at Christie's in New York on Nov. 12. The price beat the previous record of $119.9 million paid for Edvard Munch's "The Scream" at Sotheby's in May 2012. Formerly owned by Francesco De Simone Niquesa, a Rome-based lawyer who advised the movie star Sophia Loren, the trio of portraits of Bacon's painter friend was bought by the New York-based Acquavella Galleries Inc. for an undisclosed client. The work went on display at Portland Art Museum on Dec. 21.

2. Warhol's silk-screen painting "Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)" sold for a record $105.4 million at Sotheby's in New York on Nov. 13. The double-panel work was won by a phone client of Charles Moffett, vice chairman of Sotheby's Americas, who vied with at least two other telephone bidders. Warhol's previous auction record was set in 2007 at Christie's when a single-panel car-crash painting, "Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I)" sold for $71.7 million.

3. Isaac Wolf, a New York-based diamond cutter, paid $83.2 million for a 59.6-carat pink diamond at Sotheby's in Geneva on Nov. 13. The price was a record for any gemstone at auction. The oval-cut stone, known as the "Pink Star," was the largest internally flawless fancy vivid pink diamond ever graded by the Gemological Institute of America. Wolf renamed his trophy "The Pink Dream."

Colored stones, which account for about 0.01 percent of mined production, are prized for their rarity and command the highest price per carat. Pink is the most desirable color. They have now set all three of the highest auction prices for gemstones.

4. Koons, 58, became the priciest living artist at auction when his sculpture "Balloon Dog (Orange)" sold for $58.4 million at Christie's in New York on Nov. 12. Estimated at $35 million to $55 million, the 10-foot-tall stainless-steel pooch was consigned by newsprint magnate Peter Brant. The result dethroned German artist Gerhard Richter, 81, whose 1968 painting, "Domplatz, Mailand," sold for $37.1 million at Sotheby's in May.

5. Jackson Pollock's 1948 drip painting, "Number 19," sold for $58.36 million at Christie's on May 15, surpassing its $25 million to $35 million estimate range. The price set an auction record for the Abstract Expressionist painter.

6. Warhol's 1962 painting of an oversized Coca-Cola bottle fetched $57.3 million at Christie's in New York on Nov. 12. The result fell short of the lot's high estimate of $60 million. Unlike Warhol's later silkscreens, he painted "Coca-Cola (3)" by hand, depicting a stark, black bottle on a white 6-foot-tall canvas. The work was consigned by the New York-based Mugrabi family.

7. While Picasso didn't make the list this year, the Spanish artist did inspire Roy Lichtenstein's 1963 painting, "Woman with Flowered Hat," which sold for $56.1 million at Christie's in New York on May 15. It was bought in the salesroom by the London-based jeweler Laurence Graff, who said the work was a birthday gift to himself.

8. Alberto Giacometti bronze bust of his brother, "Grande tete mince (Grande tete de Diego)," conceived in 1954 and cast in bronze in an edition of six in 1955, was bought by Acquavella Galleries Inc. for $50 million at Sotheby's in New York on Nov. 6. Another version of the same work raised $53.3 million in May 2010.

9. Jean-Michel Basquiat's 1982 canvas "Dustheads" sold for a record $48.8 million to an unnamed telephone buyer at Christie's in New York on May 15. It had been estimated at $25 million to $35 million.

Prices for Basquiat, who created 800 paintings before dying at the age of 27 in 1988, have advanced 500 percent over the last 10 years, according to French database Artprice. Sales of his works currently represent more than 15 percent of the global auction market for contemporary art, Artprice said in its seventh annual report, published in October. 10. Two paintings share the 10th spot, each having fetched $46.1 million.

Mark Rothko's 1957 "No. 11 (Untitled)" radiant orange canvas surpassed its high estimate of $35 million when it sold at Christie's on Nov. 12. The painting had returned to the auction block two decades after selling for $1.1 million at Christie's in 1992.

Norman Rockwell's 1951 painting, "Saying Grace," set an auction record for the American figurative artist at Sotheby's in New York on Dec. 4. The price surpassed a high estimate of $20 million and almost tripled Rockwell's previous auction record of $15.4 million set in 2006, also at Sotheby's. The work was consigned by the family of Kenneth J. Stuart Sr., the Saturday Evening Post art editor who worked with Rockwell for about 20 years. The "Saying Grace" image first appeared in the paper's Thanksgiving issue in 1951. It depicts a gray-haired woman and a boy saying grace at a crowded restaurant table.

_ With assistance from Brendan Coffey in Boston.

bc-auctions (TPN)