Contemporary Art: As Strong as Ever

Bursting art bubble? What bursting art bubble? The Christie’s sale last night looked for all the world as though it was taking place at the height of the party: not only did it bring in a very impressive $348 million, but 70% of the buyers were American.

It also knocked Jeff Koons off his short-lived perch as the most expensive living artist at auction, when Lucian Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping sold for $33.6 million. It’s a great painting, which will surely stand the test of time much better than Koons’s Hanging Heart.

And it established a precedent for including architecture in art sales: the Kaufmann house in Palm Springs, designed by Richard Neutra, ended up selling for $16.8 million, plus another $2.1 million for the orchard next door where one can find "three cacti that were a present from Frank Lloyd Wright to Mr. Kaufmann on his first visit to the home".

Oh, and for those of you keeping track at home, Richard Prince now has a new auction record: $7.3 million, for a nurse painting.

The artist of the week though is Francis Bacon. An enormous triptych is coming up for sale at Sotheby’s tonight; Christie’s had a smaller one which sold for $28 million. This one sold at Sotheby’s in 2005 for $5.1 million, which corresponds to an annual rate of return of 176%, and a profit for the collectors, Richard and Elizabeth Hedreen, of $20 million in three years. No matter how committed you are to your collection, it’s hard to pass up that kind of money.

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