Christie’s New Auction Technique: The Global Gavel


Roy Lichtenstein’s iconic 1994 Pop canvas, “Nude With Joyous Painting,” valued at $30 million, proved to be more in tune with billionaires’ current collecting tastes. From the series of nudes that the artist painted during the last five years of his life, and never seen at auction before, this piece sparked a nine-minute battle between telephone bidders, before falling to a client in Hong Kong for the sale’s top price of $46.2 million.

Most remarkable of the seven new auction highs set in New York for individual artists was the $30.9 million given for “Complements,” an admired 8-foot-wide, two-panel abstract of colorful intertwining threads painted by the in-vogue American Minimalist painter Brice Marden, the subject of a sold-out show at the Gagosian Gallery in New York last year. Painted between 2004 and 2007, and guaranteed to sell for a minimum of $30 million, “Complements” more than tripled the artist’s previous auction high. Such are the dynamics of the market for contemporary art that auction prices for Mr. Marden are now almost as high as those for an old master like for Rembrandt, whose current auction record is $33.2 million, according to Artprice.

“Christie’s was trying to set a whole new load of records for artists because they thought they had the whole world looking on,” said Michael Short, an art adviser in Berlin, who noticed the measured nature of the bidding on many of the lots. “It didn’t have the animal energy of a live auction.”

But others were impressed. “It was an incredible live experiment, which allows one to feel and realize the width, and breadth of the art market, as well as judge the depth of it on a specific artist or artwork,” said Mr. Ogier, the Paris-based dealer.

Overall, Christie’s inaugural ONE sale raised $420.9 million from 79 offered lots. “It’s a great result in the circumstances of the market,” said Guillaume Cerutti, Christie’s chief executive, at the post-sale Zoom news conference. “As a global concept it worked very well.” He added that more than. 20,000 people followed the sale on various digital channels.

But as was the case the previous week at Sotheby’s, year-on-year sales figures were significantly lower. Last May, Christie’s evening sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art raised $937.8 million, more than double the proceeds of the “ONE” auction.

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