Blockbuster art week sets record with more than $2.6 billion in sales

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Art handlers hang Claude Monet’s “Coin du bassin aux nymphas” at Sotheby’s on November 5, 2021 in New York City.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

The fall art auctions in New York set an all-time record, as a surge in global wealth, growing inflation fears and the continued collectibles craze boosted demand and prices.

Sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Philips totaled $2.65 billion over the course of the two weeks, smashing the all-time record for fall sales of $2.59 billion in 2014, according to Pi-eX, an art data and analytics firm. Collectors battled over everything from classic Cezannes and Van Goghs to a video sculpture tied to an NFT.

A record 32 works sold for more than $20 million, according to Pi-eX, and 54 works sold for more than $10 million. The total for Christie’s was $1.14 billion, at Sotheby’s $1.34 billion and at Phillips over $170 million.

Crypto wealth was on full display. Crypto “whale” Justin Sun paid $78.4 million for Alberto Giacometti’s “Le Nez” sculpture. A group of crypto investors known as ConstitutionDAO lost out to billionaire Ken Griffin for an original copy of the U.S. Constitution that went for $43.2 million.

“Art market sentiment is sky high at the moment,” said Evan Beard, head of specialty segments at Bank of America, “driven by low interest rates, stock market wealth effect, inflationary monetary policy and new crypto wealth that needs to be parked somewhere.”

The sale of two big collections — the Cox Collection at Christie’s and the Macklowe Collection at Sotheby’s — created a trove of quality art trophies for wealthy bidders.

The sales from the Cox Collection, which was owned by the late Dallas oil tycoon Edwin L. Cox, totaled $332 million. It included Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 masterpiece “Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers,” which sold for nearly $71.4 million — twice its estimate. Another van Gogh went for six times its estimate. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles bought Gustave Caillebotte’s “Young Man at His Window” for $53 million.

The Macklowe Collection, a product of the developer Harry Macklowe’s bitter divorce, brought in $676 million. It was led by Mark Rothko’s “No. 7,” which went for $82.5 million. Along with the Giacometti sculpture that was acquired by Sun, it included a Jackson Pollock that went for $61.2 million and a towering Cy Twombly piece that fetched $58.9 million.

Sotheby’s staff take calls for off-site bids, in front of Andy Warhol’s “Sixteen Jackies”, during an auction of The Macklowe Collection, at Sotheby’s on November 15, 2021 in New York City.

Yuki Iwamura | AFP | Getty Images

NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, also made a cameo at the fall sales. An “NFT-powered” sculpture by the digital artist Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, went for $29 million at Christie’s. The sculpture is a 3D, 7-foot-tall digital lightbox made of four LED screens that shows an astronaut strolling through ever-changing landscapes. The buyer was crypto-focused Swiss venture capitalist Ryan Zurrer, who on Twitter praised Beeple for the “visionary innovation, amazing new energy and hilarious positive vibes that you’ve brought to both crypto and art.”

It became the second highest price ever paid for an NFT after Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5,000 Days,” which sold at Christie’s earlier this year for $69 million.

The crypto crowd was not as fortunate with its efforts to buy a copy of the Constitution. A group of more than 17,000 crypto investors and enthusiasts, called ConstitutionDAO, raised over $40 million to buy a first edition of the U.S. Constitution. They were outbid by billionaire hedge-funder Ken Griffin, who paid $43.2 million for the piece of history. It will be displayed at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas.

On Twitter, Beeple praised Constitution DAO and said, “I think this is the start of something big.”

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