May 15, 2014

    Asian collectors help Christie's run up record $930m art deals


    IN A nearly three-hour auction of postwar and contemporary art on Tuesday night, Christie's managed to sell nearly US$745 million (S$930 million) worth of blue-chip paintings and sculptures, thanks in large part to the enormous wealth of Asian collectors.

    "I think they're Hoover vacuum cleaners - they're buying everything," said Bill Bell, a Los Angeles collector who, earlier in the evening, tried to buy one of Warhol's fabled images of Marilyn Monroe.

    But like scores of other collectors, he was beaten by Li Xin, deputy chairman of Christie's Asia, who could be seen bidding on behalf of telephone buyers. Mr Li ended up buying half of the evening's top 10 works.

    Tuesday night's sale was the highest total for a single auction, not accounting for inflation, in Christie's history, officials at the auction house said, adding that about 30 per cent of the buyers were new to Christie's. Of the 72 works on offer, only four failed to sell.

    Few predicted that the top seller would be an abstract canvas by Barnett Newman.

    Four bidders fought over "Black Fire I", from 1961, which pairs the artist's black palette with his signature device: the zip, a feathery band of a contrasting colour that defines the composition.

    The work, which had been on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for decades, was being sold by the Daniel W. Dietrich II trust. It ended up selling to a telephone bidder for US$84.1 million.

    Francis Bacon's triptych "Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards", depicting his longtime companion in twisted poses, sold for US$80.8 million.

    "I could barely get my hand up," said Todd Levin, director of Levin Art Group in New York, who was sitting in the front row. "We are dealing with people who have US$20-$30-$40 million in expendable income for, basically, luxury goods."