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Nov. 15, 2007 

Can you blame people if they think that the art-market boom will go on forever? Sotheby’s New York sale of contemporary art on the evening of Nov. 14, 2007, totaled $315,907,000, with 65 of 71 lots finding buyers, or more than 91 percent. According to Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer, the result exemplifies "what’s going on in the current art market -- a hunger for high quality in a completely global community."

The total was the firm’s highest ever for a single sale, passing a record that was set at an Impressionist auction some 17 years ago. Incredibly, 55 of the 65 sold lots went for over $1 million, and six lots sold for over $10 million. These numbers compare favorably to Sotheby’s contemporary sale in May, when 41 lots went for $1 million-plus and four works sold for over $10 million.

Where do these absurd sums come from? According to Sotheby’s specialist Anthony Grant, the majority of the buyers were American.

(Christie’s New York contemporary art sale the evening before, on Nov. 13, totaled $325,006,000, with 62 of 67 lots finding buyers, or 93 percent.)

Prices given here include the auction house premium of 25 percent of the first $20,000, 20 percent of the remainder up to $500,000, and 12 percent of the rest.

The sale’s two top lots were its two works by Francis Bacon, both being sold by the heirs of German collectors Viktor and Marianne Langen, founders of the Tadao Ando-designed Langen Foundation in Neuss, Germany.

Bacon’s large (ca. 79 x 58 in.) Second Version of Study for Bullfight No. 1 (1969), sold for $45,961,000, after a drawn-out duel between a telephone bidder and Manhattan dealer Philippe Segalot. With the price rising in agonizing, $500,000 increments, Segalot finally won the prize, and the room broke into applause. The price was well in excess of the painting’s $35-million presale estimate.

The second Bacon painting, a small (14 x 12 in.) Self Portrait from 1969, said to be the last available work of its kind, also sold after a slow bidding war. This time the phone bidder won, paying $33,081,000, double the $15 million presale estimate, and again eliciting applause from the audience.

But the sensation of the sale was undoubtedly lot 14, Jeff KoonsHanging Heart (Magenta / Gold) (1994-2006), a dark red stainless steel valentine with a golden metal ribbon, suspended in the air by a pair of wires. Meyer opened the bidding at $10 million, and the contest seesawed back and forth between the telephones and Manhattan dealer Larry Gagosian, sitting in his usual place on the aisle and bidding with a quick nod of his head. At $19 million, Gagosian made a grimace and hesitated a moment, but persevered and won the lot, which went for $21 million at the hammer, or $23,561,000 with premium (est. $15 million-$20 million).

The price is an auction record for Koons and a record for any living artist at auction. The work had been the subject of an intensive marketing campaign, according to Sotheby’s expert Alex Rotter, which helped lure bidders and convince them that "they could own the work." As was widely reported before the sale, the sculpture had been purchased by collector Adam Lindemann for around $4 million from Gagosian Gallery only last year. Veteran auction observer Josh Baer speculated that Gagosian’s client might be hedge-fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen.

Other members of the eight-figure club included Andy Warhol, whose Self Portrait (Green Camouflage) (1986) sold for $12,361,000; Mark Rothko, whose untitled black-and-gray abstraction from 1969 went for $12,081,000; and Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose Untitled (Electric Chair) (1982) sold for $11,801,000.

The sale set auction records for another dozen artists, including Ellsworth Kelly ($5,193,000), Zhang Xiaogang ($4,969,000), John Chamberlain ($4,633,000), Fang Lijun ($4,073,000), Anish Kapoor ($2,841,000), Ad Reinhardt ($2,617,000), Yan Pei Ming ($1,609,000), Richard Serra ($1,497,000), Josef Albers ($1,497,000), Sol LeWitt ($881,000), Walter De Maria ($577,000) and Matthew Barney ($571,000).

One winning bidder was Louis Vuitton artistic director Marc Jacobs, sitting in the front row, who won Warhol’s classic 1962 Campbell’s Soup Can (Pepper Pot) painting for $8,441,000 (est. $7 million-$9 million).

The other fashion designer in the front row, Valentino, has long maintained his own museum next to his palazzo atelier near the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. He sat with his partner and business manager Giancarlo Giammetti, and bid unsuccessfully on several works. He was an underbidder on Richard Prince’s Untitled (Cowboy) (2001-02), a print of the photo that briefly held the auction record for a Prince work, which sold this time around for $3,401,000, and also bid on a large and dramatic Andy Warhol Self-Portrait (1986) in green camouflage, which eventually sold for $12,361,000. Phone bidders won both lots.

For complete, illustrated auction results, see Artnet’s signature Fine Art Auctions Report.

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