Record-Breaking Auctions Show Art Market Is Booming

By An Phung
|  Friday, Nov 15, 2013  |  Updated 10:30 AM EDT
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Record-Breaking Auctions Show Art Market Is Booming

AP

An auction house worker poses for the photographers in front of a Francis Bacon's oil on canvas triptych painting entitled 'Three Studies of Lucian Freud'', in central London, Monday, Oct. 14, 2013. The artwork will be offered in auction at Christie's New York 'Evening Sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art' on Nov. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Auction houses are having a very good week thanks to art lovers' voracious appetite for high art and artifacts.

Collectors around the world are showing an increased interest in what used to be a hobby reserved for a few elite collectors, according to Robert Manley, the international director of post-war and contemporary art for Christie's — the house's division of artwork that yielded the record-breaking night on Tuesday. 

"Art is becoming increasingly international," Manley said. "And it's no longer just big collectors from America and Europe at these auctions."

Over the past 10 days, Sotheby's said that auction houses around the world made off with over $2 billion in bids for art and jewelry, according to the AP. Christie's alone took in over $691 million on Tuesday night, which it said was the highest auction series total in art market history. It was the third time in the last four years that the auction house had broken its own record.

Bidders from 42 countries competed for the masterworks that Christie's auctioned off on Nov. 12. There are more buyers every year coming from Russia and countries in the Middle East and Asia, Manley said — reflecting the reach of art and rare artifacts internationally, especially in countries with growing middle classes.

The Francis Bacon triptych "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" sold for $142.4 million on Tuesday, making it the most expensive piece of art ever sold, and breaking the record set by Edvard Munich's "The Scream" just last year. Then, Wednesday, Sotheby's sold a 1963 Andy Warhol painting that captures the aftermath of a car crash for $105 million, breaking Warhol's previous record of $71.7 million, set in 2007.

Jeff Koons on Tuesday set the record for the most expensive artwork by a living artist when a bidder forked over $58.4 million for his orange Balloon Dog sculpture. Records were also set for works by the artists Christopher Wool, Wade Guyton, Willem de Kooning, Donald Judd, Vija Celmins, Ad Reinhardt, Lucio Fontana and Wayne Thiebaud.

Christie's set a record four years ago with an auction that brought in bids totaling $388 million. This week's auction broke their May record of $495 million. Lesser-known artworks went for several hundred dollars, Manley said, a sign that the art market is robust at all price points. 

The breakneck sales pace may not be flagging anytime soon.

"The demand for seminal works by historical important artists is truly unquestionable, and we will keep witnessing new records being broken," contemporary art adviser Michael Frahm told the AP. 

So why contemporary art? It stems from the need to "buy art from their own time" and "engage with pop culture," Manley said.

Case in point: Rapper Jay Z pays homage to artists Pablo Picasso, Jeff Koons, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol in his song "Picasso Baby," further proving that high art is crossbreeding with mainstream pop culture. He performed the song for six straight hours at New York City art exhibit in July.

Lady Gaga in August collaborated with performance artist Marina Abramovic in performance art piece that was captured in a 2 minute video. It shows the pop star hugging crystals, wearing a yellow mask and walking through a meadow in the nude.

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