With three separate auctions that were all successes, sales combined to total $363.2 million. The standout for the evening was Francis Bacon’s Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981), considered a rare masterpiece, which sold for $84.6 million against an estimate of $60–80 million. According to Sotheby’s, this is the third-highest sum ever paid for the artist's work at auction.
Sotheby’s new approach to live auctions in the age of coronavirus was a success last week, offering hope to investors across the art market. Just as video calls have taken on a new role in our daily lives, for big auctions houses, they will have to do as a substitute for in-person auctions. Sotheby’s new “hybrid” format includes a bit from both worlds, with a live auctioneer taking bids from around the world via a wall of screens, all of which is live-streamed.
Other record-setters included the sale of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Head), a drawing on paper from 1982 in the artist’s iconic style. The work achieved $15.2 million, a new world auction record for a work on paper by the artist.
Paintings by female Abstract Expressionists from the collection of Ginny Williams also made waves, including three works by Joan Mitchell. Her Garden Party (1962) set a record for Sotheby’s highest-ever price for a work sold to an online bidder, a record which was surpassed later that evening. Garden Party sold for $7.9 million, which Mitchell’s Straw (1976) sold for $8.8 million. A new world record was also set for the artist Helen Frankenthaler, whose Royal Fireworks (1975) achieved $7.9 million.
For this new auction format, Sotheby's combined more traditional methods with contemporary innovations. While in-person auctions usually see the highest prices, online purchases have been steadily rising in recent years. Even at in-person auctions, many bidders choose to stay home and call in their bids, working with an employee on-site. For last week's main event, Sotheby's had their New York, London, and Hong Kong offices all taking bids over the phone while online bidders could also join in the fun. It seems that having all of these options available cast a wider net, and buyers responded well.