David Hockney’s artwork $90.3 M (with buyer’s premium) at auction, fetched a new record for a living artist, leaving in dust the previous record held by Jeff Koons and his Balloon Dog (Orange), which sold for $58.4 million at Christie’s in 2013. Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) was snapped up after more than 9 min of bidding, dominated by two rival telephone bidders.

The big-picture auction season started in New York with Christie’s Evening Sale with a rather underwhelming Impressionist and Modern sale that garnered a tepid $279.3M. The tally fell shy of the low end of pre-sale expectations that the auction would net somewhere between $304.7M – $439.6M.

The mood at Phillips and Christie’s could not have been more different from the Modern and Impressionist Sale. A handful of big lots were either withdrawn, failed to generate bids or had consignors too stiff-necked to take advantage their best opportunities. Sotheby’s biggest lots held little drama selling on few bids but there was a steady stream of unanticipated, dogged competition that repeatedly perked up the room and revived interest for new artist in the Evening catalogue such as Jonas Wood, John Chamberlain, Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Kerry James Marshall.

Christie’s chalked up $1.79 billion in sales, including every single item from the iconic collection of the late David and Peggy Rockefeller which, for the first time, spread their flagship May sales across two weeks. Equally positive, Sotheby’s sold $859 million, including $157.2 million for a Modigliani nude: the most expensive lot of the season.


Sotheby’s uninspired October sales were hidden behind Banksy’s prank for the last lot which “self-destructed” before everyone’s eyes after selling for the triple low estimate at £1,042,000. The rest of the 39 lots barely reached its pre-sale low estimate of £34.6M, the lowest figure in a multiple-owner sale in over 5 years. The stunt apparently orchestrated by the elusive street artist was supposedly a surprise for Sotheby’s: “We had no prior knowledge of this event and were not in any way involved.”

Sotheby’s and Phillips Post-war & Contemporary Evening auctions in London was 58.7% higher than June 2017 and second highest total for the two auction houses since June 2015. It is evident that both auction houses benefitted from Christie’s absence from the evening sale schedule.

Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern sale offered 36 lots, including works by major players including Picasso, Chagall, Monet, and Giacometti. Although only 26 were sold, –resulting in a BI of 28%–, 14 of the lots were secured by guaranteed buyers, making up a staggering 75% of the overall profits. One of the biggest limps was Picasso’s painting of Marie-Thérèse Walter guaranteed by a third party.

Christie’s £137 million Evening auction (including buyer’s fees) broke the record for a Contemporary sale in Europe. With only 5 of the 65 offered lots failed to sale, Christie’s London team fetched an excellent BI rate of 8%.

Christie’s kicked off the 2018 auction season with its Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale which offered 65 lots and achieved £114,103,000 without premium. This total barely made through its pre-sale low estimate by +2% and had a BI of 22%.

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