What does it say about the upper reaches of the international art market—we’re talking about bonafide trophy-hunting territory—when the tenth most expensive work sold this year had a whopping $80 million price tag?
Consider that in 2020, just two of the top 10 lots fetched prices above $50 million each. Last year, thanks in large part to the storied collection of divorced couple Harry and Linda Macklowe, all ten of the top lots sold for well above the $50 million mark. Now, that bar has been bumped up again as the low end of the top ten for 2022 is the $80 million mark, with all other lots selling above that. The lots brought a cumulative $1.1 billion, which is actually down a notch from the $1.2 billion comparable total for 2021.
This year the auction firepower came from the unprecedented collection assembled by Paul Allen, the late billionaire co-founder of Microsoft whose collection added a stunning $1.6 billion to Christie’s bottom line. That’s roughly the equivalent of an entire spring or fall season at all three major auction houses. Five works from the Allen collection each brought over $100 million and account for roughly half this entire list. Just four works in our top ten are not from the Allen collection.
Read on to find out which works smashed expectations and grabbed headlines this year.
10. René Magritte, L’empire des Lumières (1961)
Price: $79.8 million
When: March 2
Where: Sotheby’s London
Why: Sotheby’s deems the artist’s “les lumieres” series as “among the most iconic images of twentieth-century art.” Alongside Magritte’s La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) and his bowler-hatted men, “they are his most important images with an influence that stretches far beyond Surrealist circles.”
Adding to the allure, this particular work had never been sold before, not even on the primary market, as it was acquired directly from the artist in 1961. The final price with premium was well over its unpublished estimate of $60 million, also smashing the artist’s previous record of $26.8 million, set in November 2018.
Sotheby’s pulled out all the stops to market the painting, transforming the facade of its London headquarters into a trompe l’oeil duplicate of the work. The iconic picture was from a series of 17 paintings and came from the collection of Anne-Marie Crowet Gillion, who modeled for the artist and was the daughter of one of his most important patrons.
9. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (1982)
Price: $85 million
When: May 18
Where: Phillips New York
Why: The marquee lot of Phillips’s May evening auction was an untitled work by Jean-Michel Basquiat from the so-called “golden year” of 1982. The sprawling canvas, measuring over 16 feet wide …….