The bidding for Andy Warhol’s “Triple Elvis (Ferus Type)” began at a staggering $48 million.
Packed into Christie’s New York, the library-quiet, 750-person crowd looked dapper as the British-accented auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen set things in motion at a lectern in the front of the Rockefeller Plaza salesroom.
The price of the painting jumped by $4 million in a matter of seconds.
Then jumped again.
Five-and-a-half minutes later, Pylkkanen finally brought the bidding to a close. “Sold,” he said, tapping his hammer with a flourish before announcing the final bid: $73 million. With fees, the price tag on the Warhol piece was $81,925,000.
The price had gone up $4.5 million per minute, or $75,000 per second. Warhol’s work — which had been owned by a German casino company and went to an anonymous buyer bidding by telephone — was the most expensive item on another record-setting night in the high-flying art world.
Perhaps the evening was summed up best a few minutes after the Warhol’s sale when bidding on a Cy Twombly painting passed $60 million, prompting one audience member to gasp: “Whoaaa.”
“Welcome to Christie’s,” Pylkkanen said, without missing a beat.
It was that kind of night, with Christie’s selling a record $852.9 million worth of contemporary and post-war art. There were new records for 11 artists, including Twombly, Ed Ruscha, Peter Doig, Martin Kippenberger and Seth Price, according to figures released by Christie’s.
It was the fourth consecutive time since May 2013 that Christie’s twice-yearly post-war and contemporary art auction set a single-sale record.
“The quality of the sale was epic,” Manhattan financier David Ganek told The New York Times after shelling out $6.7 million for a group of 21 Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills.
The auction house had estimated the sale would bring in $630 million to $836 million, according to Art News. It blew past the top estimate — and the previous single-sale record of $745 million, set six months earlier by Christie’s, according to Crain’s.
The sale established 11 new world auction records, selling three works for over $50 million, 23 for over $10 million and 69 for over $1 million, according to Christie’s.
So over-the-top was the bidding, Art News reported, that by the time a buyer paid close to $70 million for Warhol’s “Four Marlons,” the crowd — “whether reeling from the action or no longer capable of being surprised or just no longer impressed by anything under $80 million — forgot to clap.”
Who are these buyers, exactly?
“This is a market driven by global collectors who are looking for the best of the best,” Brett Gorvy, international head of post-war and contemporary art, told Reuters. “More than about records, it’s about five, six or seven buyers competing to spend 50 or 60 million dollars on an object.”
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