Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on Thursday, May 16. Courtesy: Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s and Phillips Contemporary Art Auctions Rake in $441.8 Million

Led by works by Francis Bacon and Mark Rothko, the Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on Thursday, May 16 netted $341.9 million. Phillips’s Evening Sale of Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Art, which was also held Thursday night, hauled in $99.9 million. The auctions concluded New York’s spring contemporary art evening auctions, during which a total of $981 million was spent on artists such as Jeff Koons—who smashed the auction record for a work by a living artist at Christie’s on Wednesday—Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Willem de Kooning.

“Tonight we saw a resounding response to a very fresh sale, with nearly 80 percent of the works on offer making their auction debut,” Grégoire Billaut, head of the Sotheby’s contemporary art department in New York, said last night. “It was an honor for us to be entrusted this season with collections that have been hidden away for decades, and bidders from around the globe were ready to compete for treasures like Francis Bacon’s Screaming Pope—without question one of the best works I have ever handled in my twenty years at Sotheby’s.”

Bacon’s Study for a Head, 1952—part of his “Screaming Pope” series—fetched $50.4 million following a four-minute battle between five bidders, well exceeding its $30 million high estimate. Other highlights of the auction included Rothko’s Untitled, 1960, which sold for $50.1 million; Willem de Kooning’s colorful Untitled X, 1975, which went for $12.6 million; and Lee Krasner’s The Eye is the First Circle, 1960, which achieved $11.7 million—a record for the artist. Other records were set by Carl Andre, Charles Gaines, Barkley L. Hendricks, Rashid Johnson, Kenneth Noland, and Dana Schutz. Only seven of the night’s sixty-three lots failed to sell.

At Phillips, the top lots included de Kooning’s Untitled XVI, 1976, which netted $10.3 million; Basquiat’s Self Portrait, 1983, which sold for $9.5 million; and Mark Bradford’s Helter Skelter II, 2007, which raised $8.48 million. While the auction brought in $99.9 million from forty-five lots, the total for the night was down from last May’s.