As 2019 is coming to an end, it’s time to wrap up the year and highlight the most important auctions of the season. Most of the record-breaking sales took place in the first half of the year while the fall season brought some disappointment with much lower prices achieved. The political turmoil of the past few months, caused by events such as Brexit in the UK, protests in Hong Kong or impeachment hearings in the United States, didn’t work in favour of the art market. Nevertheless, this year can still be considered a successful one, with some record-breaking sales that created a buzz in the art world. Below, we present a brief list of the most important auction records of 2019.
New record for a living artist.
In May, at Christie’s Postwar and Contemporary Art sale that realized a total of $538.9 million, Jeff Koons’ Rabbit set a new record for a living artist. His shiny stainless steel sculpture from 1986 was the highlight of the auction, displayed in a custom-built space during the pre-sale viewing. The final price with premium was $91 million, making Koons the most expensive living artist, a title previously held by David Hockney.
The surprising success of Robert Rauschenberg.
Although Robert Rauschenberg is one of the most recognizable contemporary artists, the market for his works was relatively quiet compared to others, such as Rothko or Warhol. In May, silkscreen painting Buffalo II, completed in 1964, was sold at Christie’s New York for $88.8 million, spectacularly surpassing its estimated price by $30 million. The sale set a new record for the artist and opened a new chapter for Rauschenberg’s market.
Although the art market is still dominated by male artists, 2019 saw a few significant record-breaking sales that indicate a growing interest in art made by women.
Louis Bourgeois, one of the most sought after female artists of the contemporary art market, made the headlines when her bronze sculpture Spider, created in 1997, was sold for $32 million at Christie’s New York in May. It’s the second-highest auction price paid for a female artist after Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1. ($44.4 million).
Lee Krasner, for the past few decades overshadowed by her husband Jackson Pollock, enjoyed new collectors’ interest. Her painting The Eye is the First Circle (1960), supposedly created as an expression of grief after Pollock’s death, was sold at Sotheby’s New York in May for $11.1 million, breaking the record for the artist’s work.
In an autumn Sotheby’s sale in New York, Tamara Łempicka’s painting La Tunique Rose was sold for $13.4 million, setting a new world record for the painter. It’s also the highest price paid for an artwork created by a Pole which confirmed Łempicka’s status as the most expensive Polish artist.
Politically engaged art of Banksy.
In October, Sotheby’s London sold Banksy’s painting Devolved Parliament depicting British Members of Parliament as chimpanzees for $12.7 million, setting a new record for the artist’s painting. Banksy, known for his condemnation of the art world, commented on the sale in an Instagram post, quoting art critic Robert Hughes – “Instead of being the common property of humankind the way a book is, art becomes the property of someone who can afford it.”
Evergrowing love for Monet.
The market for the Impressionists remained strong, with a record-breaking sale of Meules by Monet. The most impressive painting from the artist’s widely recognized series Haystacks was sold at Sotheby’s in May for $110.7 million, confirming the neverending popularity of the painter. It’s not only the highest sum ever paid for a Monet but also the record for any Impressionist work of art.
Record-breaking rare Ruscha’s masterpiece.
Ed Ruscha’s Hurting the Word Radio #2 was the highlight of this year’s fall auction season. The critically admired work, one of the artist’s rare early word paintings, was sold at Christie’s New York in November for $52.5 million, setting a new record for the painter.