The Top Auction Moments of 2016

Even in a sober year, the big auctions offered plenty of spectacle.

Peter Brant. Photo: PATRICK MCMULLAN.

At the top end of the market 2016 was a year of consolidation and return to normality, and whilst sales volume was lower than in 2015, the high-profile evening auctions in New York and London did not pass by without excitement. Here we summarize the top auction moments of 2016.

Yusaku Maezawa. Image ©Yusaku Maezawa.

Yusaku Maezawa. Image ©Yusaku Maezawa.

1. Yusaku Maezawa’s $98 million New York art shopping spree.

In May the billionaire Japanese online fashion entrepreneur turned heads when the relatively obscure collector dropped a cool $98 million on blue-chip art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s within two days. His acquisitions included a record-breaking Jean-Michel Basquiat for $57 million, a $13.9 million Christopher Wool, a $9.7 million Richard Prince, a $6.9 million Jeff Koons, a $2.6 million Adrian Ghenie, a $5.8 million Alexander Calder, and a $1.6 million Bruce Nauman.

Claude Monet, Meule (1891). Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.

Claude Monet, Meule (1891). Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd.

2. Claude Monet’s $81 million Haystack becomes the most expensive artwork sold at auction in 2016.

An anonymous telephone bidder bought one of the few examples of Monet’s highly desirable Haystack paintings still left in private hands for $81 million at Christie’s in November. The protracted bidding war was characterized by indecisive collectors jumping in and out of the fray by submitting bids at seemingly random price points, driving up the price.

Adrian Ghenie, Nickelodeon (2008). Photo courtesy Christie's.

Adrian Ghenie, Nickelodeon (2008). Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd. 2016.

3. Adrian Gehnie’s big year.

The Romanian figurative painter was undoubtedly the auction revelation of 2016. The highlight being the sale of Ghenie’s Nickelodeon (2008), which sold for $9 million at Christie’s London in October, four times its high estimate. In fact, according to artnet’s Price Database the artist’s five top selling lots changed hands in 2016.

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 24, 25 and 26 October, 2006 (2006). Estimate $9–$12 million. Courtesy Sotheby's.

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 24, 25 and 26 October, 2006 (2006). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

4. David Hockney record.

The octogenarian British artist set a new record at Sotheby’s New York in November when his work Woldgate Woods 24, 25, and 26 October (2006) sold for $11.7 million. The sale marked the market’s acknowledgment of the institutional and critical recognition that the artist has long enjoyed.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby Drown (2012). Courtesy: Sotheby's.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby Drown (2012). Courtesy: Sotheby’s.

5. Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s meteoric rise.

In September the Nigerian artist’s work sold at Sotheby’s for $93,750, so expectations were modest when Drown (2012) came up at Sotheby’s contemporary auction in New York in November. But a six-person bidding war propelled the painting over three times the $300,000 high estimate finally selling for a surprisingly high $1.1 million.

Peter Brant. Photo: PATRICK MCMULLAN.

Peter Brant. Photo: PATRICK MCMULLAN.

6. Peter Brant’s John Currin.

The consignor of John Currin’s Nice ‘n Easy, rumored to be collector and publishing billionaire Peter Brant, made a substantial return on his purchase when the artwork sold for $12 million at Christie’s New York in November. The work was traded at Sotheby’s in 2008 for $5.4 million.

Willem de Kooning, Untitled XXV (1977). Estimated in the region of $40 million. Courtesy Christie's.

Willem de Kooning, Untitled XXV (1977). Estimated in the region of $40 million. Courtesy Christie’s.

7. Willem de Kooning doubles his previous record.

De Kooning’s 1977 canvas Untitled XXV smashed the artist’s previous auction record when it sold at Christie’s New York in November, selling for $66.3 million, well above the pre-sale high estimate of $40 million.

Roy Lichtenstein, Nudes in Mirror (1994). Courtesy of Phillips.

Roy Lichtenstein, Nudes in Mirror (1994). Courtesy of Phillips.

8. Phillips sells a damaged Roy Lichtenstein for $21.5 million.

Pulling off a brilliant promotional ploy by marketing a Lichtenstein picture that was slashed by a visitor whilst on show at Austria’s Kunsthaus Bregenz as a value-adding backstory, Phillips managed to sell the restored artwork to a telephone bidder for $21.5 million at the house’s 20th century and contemporary art sale in November.

Donald Judd Untitled (Menziken 88-16) (1988). Photo: courtesy of Phillips.

Donald Judd Untitled (Menziken 88-16) (1988). Photo: courtesy of Phillips.

9. Phillips almost sells a $2.4 million Donald Judd sculpture for $200,000.

There were laughs in the room at Phillips 20th century and contemporary art sale in November when the auctioneer mistakenly tried to elicit a bid of $200,000 in the closing stages of the sale of the Donald Judd stacked work Untitled (Menziken) (1988) which was estimated to sell for between $2 million and $3 million. When the artwork finally sold for $2.4 million the auctioneer jokingly remarked that the bidder “nearly got the deal of the century there.”

Edvard Munch, Girls on the Bridge (1902). Courtesy Sotheby's.

Edvard Munch, Girls on the Bridge (1902). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

10. Sotheby’s sells second-most expensive Edvard Munch work.

The Norwegian artist’s Girls on the Bridge (1902) became Munch’s second-most expensive artwork to sell at auction when it was snapped up for $54.2 million by an anonymous telephone bidder at Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern sale in November.


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