A Billion-Dollar Week by the Numbers

A Billion-Dollar Week by the Numbers

Nearly 700 artworks across six auctions realized nearly $1.1 billion in sales this week — Sotheby’s second consecutive marquee auction series to reach this milestone.
Nearly 700 artworks across six auctions realized nearly $1.1 billion in sales this week — Sotheby’s second consecutive marquee auction series to reach this milestone.

A cross six exhilarating auctions this May, Sotheby’s reached a milestone it has only reached a few times before: it sold over one billion dollars’ worth of art in five days. Between The Macklowe Collection’s finale and the extensive New York Sales, this one week realized $1.09 billion US dollars in sales — the second consecutive marquee week to pass this threshold and the third highest week in Sotheby’s 278-year history.

Monday 16 May saw The Macklowe Collection return to the block for its second and final auction, where it achieved $246.1 million. Following its $676.1 million performance in November, the unparalleled collection realized a combined total of $922.2 million and became the most valuable ever sold at auction.

On Tuesday evening, The New York Sales began. Presented in partnership with CELINE, five auctions exhibited an outstanding array of work spanning the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, from Impressionism to today.

Pablo Picasso’s Femme nue couchée and Claude Monet’s Le Grand Canal et Santa Maria della Salute led the Modern Evening Auction to reach $408.4 million, becoming Sotheby’s third most valuable auction ever and the second most valuable multiple-owner sale. All top ten lots from the fifty-eight-lot auction broke $10 million.

Two days later on Thursday, the second New York edition of Sotheby’s NOW Evening Auction saw frenzied bidding on artworks by the most in-demand artists of the day — with women artists offering the lion’s share of the art on offer. At the end of one energetic hour, nine auction records were set among the twenty-three works comprising the $72.9 million sale.

After a short break, auctioneer Oliver Barker took the rostrum from Michael Macaulay for the Contemporary Evening Auction. Led by Francis Bacon’s triumphant finale to his “Pope” paintings ($46.3 million), the auction realized $210.5 million and tipped the week’s tally across the billion-dollar mark.

Two exciting daytime auctions rounded out the week. Wednesday’s Modern Day Auction achieved $72.8 million across 268 lots, while Friday’s Contemporary Day Auction totaled $79.1 million across 277 lots. The average lot value across this week’s evening auctions was $7.2 million.

At least thirty-six artists saw new auction records established throughout the week, including Virgil Abloh, Milton Avery, Georg Baselitz, Leonora Carrington, Jared French, Adrian Ghenie, Simone Leigh, Maximilien Luce, Robert Motherwell, Jennifer Packer, Christina Quarles, Sean Scully, Avery Singer, Anna Weyant and Matthew Wong.

The five most valuable artworks of the week were Picasso’s Femme nue couchée ($67.5 million), Monet’s Le Grand Canal et Santa Maria della Salute ($56.6 million), Mark Rothko’s Untitled ($48 million), Bacon’s Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd Version 1971 ($46.3 million) and Paul Cézanne’s Clairière (The Glade) ($41.7 million). Across the auctions, two works sold for over $50 million, nine works for over $20 million, twenty-three works sold for over $10 million, and one hundred works sold for over $1 million.

Global interest drove bids from fifty countries across six continents. Nearly a quarter of The Macklowe Collection’s bid value came from bidders in Asia, and a quarter of the lots in the NOW Evening Auction saw bids from the same. Almost half of bidders aged under forty across the week’s auctions were from Asia, and several incredible artworks — including Monet’s Les Arceaux De Roses, Giverny, Andy Warhol’s Self Portrait, Cy Twombly’s Untitled and Adrian Ghenie’s Degenerate Art — sold to collectors in Asia. All of which follows the success of Sotheby’s Hong Kong auctions at the beginning of the month, which achieved $496 million US.

Meanwhile, the six live-streamed auctions saw 3.6 million views (including on Sothebys.com, YouTube and Instagram), plus an additional 2.2 million views on TikTok.

Such a stunning series of records and statistics presents strong signs for the global art market, following Sotheby’s record year of $7.3 billion US in sales in 2021. Year-to-date, the auction house is now up 50 percent in modern and contemporary art sales over 2021; global sales have topped $1.65 billion, compared to $1.06 billion this time last year. At the end of a week like this one, it’s fair to say Sotheby’s unprecedented array of extraordinary artworks was met by a confident market and high demand.

Head below the fold for in-depth coverage of the week’s auctions.


The Week at a Glance

The Macklowe Collection

Consisting of sixty-five works of art, The Macklowe Collection became the most valuable single-owner sale ever, comfortably breaking a record set in 2018. Thirty masterworks sold on Monday evening for $246.1 million (with November’s auction, the collection totaled $922.2 million), led by an important 1960 painting by Mark Rothko that sold for $48 million.

The entire collection’s average lot price was an impressive $14.2 million, buoyed this week by Gerhard Richter’s Seestück [Seascape] ($30.2 million), Andy Warhol’s Self Portrait ($18.7 million), Willem de Kooning’s Untitled ($17.8 million) and Cy Twombly’s Synopsis of a Battle ($15.3 million).

All the lots sold on Monday, making it The Macklowe Collection’s second white-glove auction — and the first of two this week.

Top 10 Lots from The Macklowe Collection

The Modern Evening Auction

Tuesday’s Modern Evening Auction acquired $408.4 million, thanks to global demand for Impressionist, Abstract Expressionist and Surrealist art; a third of the works at auction came to the block for the first time in twenty years or more.

The auction was headlined by Pablo Picasso’s Femme nue couchée and Claude Monet’s Le Grand Canal et Santa Maria della Salute, and the top ten lots all broke $10 million — including Willem de Kooning’s Leaves in Weehawken, a beautiful work on paper that doubled its high estimate. Six additional works by Picasso sold, with the artist’s total from the night topping $106 million. Two other Monets sold, including Les Arceaux De Roses, Giverny to a collector in Asia, bringing the artist’s nightly total to $86.2 million.

The fifty-eight-lot sale established five new auction records: Milton Avery’s The Letter ($6.1 million), Maximilien Luce’s Baigneuses à Saint-Tropez ($4.5 million), Leonora Carrington’s The Garden of Paracelsus ($3.3 million) and Jared French’s The Double ($1.1 million) all set new artist records. Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 59 ($1.2 million) also set a record for a work on paper by the artist.

Victor Brauner’s Indicateur de l’espace ($945,000) became the artist’s second most valuable work to come to market, and Paul Cézanne’s Clairière (The Glade) ($41.7 million) — one of three paintings sold by the Toledo Museum of Art — achieved the artist’s third highest sale.


Top 10 Lots from the Modern Evening Auction

The Modern Day Auction

Wednesday’s Modern Day Auction was a sale with extraordinary depth; 79 percent of the 339 lots sold to achieve a total of $72.8 million. Two of the top ten works were by Pablo Picasso and two were by Georgia O’Keeffe — all of which realized over $1 million — while an arresting painting from Robert Motherwell’s “Spanish Elegy” series sold for $2.5 million.

Auction records were set for Tilsa Tsuchiya ($882,000), Miguel Covarrubias ($756,000), Hedda Sterne ($504,000), Alejandro Obregón ($252,000), Joaquín Torres-García ($189,000, for a wooden construction), Michael (Corinne) West ($176,400) and Rosa Rolanda ($56,700).

Top 10 Lots from the Modern Day Auction

The NOW Evening Auction

In its second New York edition, the NOW Evening Auction — featuring the most innovative and cutting-edge artists working today — reserved its coveted first ten lots for artworks made by women. In fact, it was the first auction of its kind at Sotheby’s where works made by women were the majority.

Across the thrilling $72.9 million auction, works by women artists achieved $28 million, and works by artists of color realized $35.1 million — or nearly half of the auction’s total sale value.

From the very first lot (Anna Weyant’s Falling Woman), the energetic night was propelled by frenzied bidding in the room, on the phone and online, all expertly presided over by auctioneer Michael Macaulay. The first six lots all broke — in some cases, shattered — existing auction records.

Three more were set over the hour, making nine artist records across the twenty-three lot sale: Adrian Ghenie’s Degenerate Art ($9.3 million), Matthew Wong’s The Night Watcher ($5.9 million), Avery Singer’s Happening ($5.3 million), Christina Quarles’s Night Fell Upon Us Up On Us ($4.5 million), Jennifer Packer’s Fire Next Time ($2.3 million), Simone Leigh’s Birmingham ($2.2 million), Weyant’s Falling Woman ($1.6 million), Lucy Bull’s Special Guest ($907K, in her auction debut), and Virgil Abloh’s Unique “Efflorescence” Desk ($151K for a dedicated work of art).

The top lot was Kerry James Marshall’s Beauty Examined ($13.5 million), a poignant examination of the racial and gendered paradigms of beauty, which appeared in the artist’s celebrated mid-career retrospective, “Mastry.”

With every lot sold, the NOW Evening Auction became this week’s second white-glove sale, and the second consecutive season this auction achieved the exciting mark.

The watershed auction was a reflection of market trends and growing demand. In 2021, statistics from Sotheby’s Mei Moses Index revealed that prices for work by women artists grew 32 percent over five years, compared to 29 percent for work by men. Narrowing the focus to contemporary art over the same period illuminates an even more important trend: Work by contemporary women artists increased in value 66 percent, versus 17 percent for contemporary male artists over the same period.

Top 10 Lots from the NOW Evening Auction

The Contemporary Evening Auction

When principle auctioneer Oliver Barker took the rostrum for Thursday night’s Contemporary Evening Auction, the week’s sale total had reached $800 million. By the end of the $210.5 million auction, the billion-dollar threshold had been reached.

The auction was driven by major figures of contemporary art, with Francis Bacon’s triumphant finale to his “Pope” paintings realizing $46.3 million. Also leading the sale were Cy Twombly’s Untitled ($38 million), Andy Warhol’s Elvis ($21.6 million), Ed Ruscha’s Cold Beer Beautiful Girls ($18.8 million) and Georg Baselitz’s Dresdner Frauen – Besuch aus Prag [Women of Dresden – Visit from Prague] ($11.2 million, a new artist record).

Additionally, the evening’s final lot, Sean Scully’s Song ($2 million), earned the artist a new auction record.

Top 10 Lots from the Contemporary Evening Auction

The Contemporary Day Auction

The billion-dollar week closed out with Friday’s 277-lot Contemporary Day Auction, 89.5 percent of which sold for a total of $79.1 million. Work by women artists continued to present a strong showing, with the top four lots coming from Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell and selling over $2 million, well above their high estimates. All top ten lots sold above $1 million.

Fourteen auction records were set, including eight by women artists: Lynda Benglis ($1.1 million), Steven Parrino ($567,000), Kara Walker ($529,300), Genesis Tramaine ($441,000), Erik Parker ($378,000), Craig Kauffman ($327,600), Antonio Santin ($277,200), Ambera Wellmann ($189,000), Ivy Haldeman ($176,400), Chloe Wise ($144,900), Marcellina Akpojotor ($73,080), Pedro Friedeberg ($69,300), Gillian Wearing ($63,000) and Aaron Johnson ($60,480).

When the final gavel struck for a collection of three miniature balloon animals by Jeff Koons, Sotheby’s total sales for the week closed at $1,089,812,692.

Top 10 Lots from the Contemporary Day Auction

The New York Sales Auction Results

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