Purple Craze for Warhol


Last night Sotheby’s demonstrated the enduring ability for the auction houses to sell high-powered art, and sell it well. Sotheby’s had a tightly edited 53-lot sale; only three lots failed to sell. Several lots were hotly contested.

Warhol had another big evening, particularly in the case of Self Portrait (1986), a nine-foot-tall painting of Warhol wearing his now-famous fright wig was the star lot. Tom Ford owned the impressive painting, which is from a series of five. At least five bidders chased it until the bidding slowed at around $25 million. The contest narrowed to three bidders until the work was hammered at $29 million ($32.6 million with premium) to a Sotheby’s phone bidder. The pre sale estimate was $10–15 million.

Bidding was very active in the room: a Warhol flower painting of four panels sold to dealer Nick Maclean for $6.75 hammer (or $7,642,500), within sight of a pre-sale estimate of $5–7 million. Warhol’s Air Mail Stamp (1962) was also bought in the room for $3.4 million. There was a lot of enthusiasm for Warhols of all dates. At the press conference afterward, Tobias Meyer, the evening’s auctioneer, declared, “80’s Warhol will be the next nympheas paintings,” referring to the late Monet pictures now highly sought after in the Impressionist market. He described the market for the night’s star work, saying it was a “very studied group who went after the Self-Portrait,” explaining that, “the size was mind blowing to collectors.”


A 1948 Jackson Pollock with a pre-sale estimate of $4–6 million sold in the room after several telephone bidders tried unsuccessfully to obtain the work; it sold for $7.75 hammer, or $8,762,500 with premium. A sublimely red 1961 Rothko was bid up to $15 million between several telephone bidders and a standing bidder. After a brisk back-and-forth, it was hammered down for $28 million, or $31,442,500.

Other sectors of the contemporary market fared well, and it was a big night for sculpture. An elegant Ellsworth Kelly, Untitled Totem, a 216-inch-tall sculpture, was bought by Citibank art advisor Jonathan Binstock on behalf of a collector for $4 million, including the premium. This price set a record for sculpture by the artist.  Binstock later explained, “Connoisseurs are really focusing on what they want—the Marden, Cornell,  Kelly, and Tuttle prices were fantastic.” The Tuttle sculpture, Silver Picture, sold for $1,762,500, breaking the  previous auction record $1,054,500 for a work by that artist. Four additional artists set new auction records for their works: Richard Serra, Corner Prop, went for $1,986,500; Juan Munoz’s Conversation Piece III, consisting of six bronze larger-than-life weevil-like figures, made $4,898,500. Among the records was the Maurizio Cattelan work, a wax likeness of the artist literally breaking through the floor of the gallery, which sold to a telephone bidder for $7,922,5000 with premium. Dealer Phillipe Segalot was the under bidder. The beautifully executed Brice Marden, Cold Mountain Path I (Path), also set a record at $9,602,500.

The sale was not without a good old fashioned bidding war as Larry Gagosian and a seated woman went back and forth over Untitled Stardust, a large Basquiat of a saxophone player consigned directly from the estate of the artist. It finally sold to the lady (after costing her a few extra million) for $6.4 million hammer or $7,250,500. Tony Shafrazi called the evening, “A phenomenal sale, Warhol performed well across the board.” Sotheby’s high low estimate was $113,950,000–161,750,000 and the sale totaled $189,969,000.