It has been a superlative auction season in New York with sales of Impressionist, modern, and contemporary art totaling more than $2 billion. Christie’s reported a decline from last November with sales of $968 million, and Sotheby’s increased to $978 million notwithstanding a poor third quarter and concern about the margins on its $500 million guarantee for the Taubman collection.
After a record-breaking year in which global art auctions exceeded $16 billion, the world’s largest auction houses have resumed the risky practice of guaranteeing minimum prices for very expensive lots. Christie’s and Sotheby’s had mostly abandoned guarantees in late 2008, and observers are keen to speculate about their return. February sales with works by Monet, Cézanne, and Picasso are primed to set new records.
Maurizio Cattelan’s installation of La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour) is a life-sized effigy of Pope John Paul II struck down by a meteor. First exhibited in 1999 at the Kunsthalle Basel, La Nona Ora was featured at the Royal Academy in London in 2000, and also at the Zacheta Gallery of Contemporary Art in Warsaw. Christie’s sold the piece in 2001 for $886,000, and a second version was auctioned by Phillips, de Pury & Company in 2004 for $3 million.