From Monet to Koons: New York’s $2 Billion Week of Art Auctions

These are the most expensive works of art from each day.

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Wealthy art collectors and investors shelled out more than $2 billion over five days of auctions in New York, toward the high end of the initial estimate range of $1.6 billion to $2.3 billion.

More than 80% of the almost 2,000 lots offered at events held May 13-17 at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips were sold. The most expensive work of the week was the $110.7 million Claude Monet painting of sun-bathed haystacks, which took just eight minutes and six bidders to set a world record for an Impressionist work. Contemporary sales were led by the $91.1 million Jeff Koons silver bunny sculpture, which set an auction record for a work by a living artist. The third-highest sale was Robert Rauschenberg’s $88.8 million Buffalo II, a painting that fetched almost five times the late artist’s previous auction record.

Other highlights included a $50.1 million moody abstract from Mark Rothko, Louise Bourgeois’s 1-ton spider sculpture, which sold for $32.1 million—the second-highest price for a female artist at auction—and a $5.9 million SpongeBob SquarePants piece by KAWS, a 44-year-old Brooklyn artist enjoying surging international demand. That was one of 19 KAWS works on the auction block this week.

Daily forecasts and results 👆

Total sales and estimate ranges for each of the week’s 13 major art auctions
  • Estimate range
  • Within estimate
  • Above estimate
  • Below estimate
Note: Sotheby’s ranges were provided by the auction house directly. For Christie’s and Phillips, the ranges were calculated by adding up all the high estimates and all the low estimates for individual lots as published online, plus any “estimate upon request” figures provided by the auction houses. Prices include the buyer’s commission; estimates don’t. Sales figures and estimate ranges are charted on a power scale.
Sources: Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips

The high-end art market’s first big test of the year took place against the backdrop of U.S.-China trade tensions and jittery financial markets. Similar sales last year included the juggernaut Rockefeller estate and John Magnier’s Modigliani nude that fetched $157.2 million. The estimates for this week were more modest. Not a single painting or sculpture targeted more than $70 million, though three lots ultimately exceeded that.

The art world’s biggest prizes 👆

Top lots from evening sales at New York’s spring and fall art auctions
Note: Lots are charted on a power scale by their inflation-adjusted sales prices in current dollars, but display their actual sales prices.
Sources: Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Phillips and Bloomberg

The art market continued to make history, setting about 50 auction records for artists, including several for female and black artists.

A 16-foot-wide painting by Lee Krasner sold for $10.5 million, almost doubling the late artist’s previous auction record, while Brooklyn artist Dana Schutz had two record sales within hours of each other on Thursday. A 1975 painting by Barkley Hendricks went for $3.7 million, four times what it sold for just two years ago when it last appeared at auction.