Rabbit hops to a record $91m at Christie’s as Jeff Koons once again becomes the world’s most expensive living artist

Dealer Bob Mnuchin placed the winning bid on “Rabbit” for $91m (with fees), restoring Koons to his former title of the most expensive living artist.
Christie's

Jeff Koons was once again crowned the worlds most expensive living artist at Christies Post-war and contemporary evening sale in New York last night when his stainless steel Rabbit (1986) sold for $80m ($91m with fees) to the art dealer Bob Mnuchin, the father of the US Secretary of State Steven Mnuchin, who was bidding on the floor for a client.

The slick, shiny silver bunny was undeniably the trophy lot of the evening. It was part of half a dozen works consigned by the family of the late magazine magnate Si Newhouse, and considered to be the last of an edition of four to be in private hands. Bearing an estimate of $50m-$70m and sold without a guarantee, the three-foot-tall sculpture had been ensconced in a surgically white enclave in the lead up to the sale, softly lit on a plinth like a religious relic.

“No one understands the psychology of wealth better than Koons,” says Evan Beard, the national art services executive at US Trust. “His Rabbit flatters and challenges the collector—and can deliver a status punch greater than any PR agency.” Koonss previous record ($58.4m for an orange balloon dog sculpture sold in 2013 also at Christies) was shattered just last autumn when the auction house sold David Hockneys $90.3m double pool portrait.

But the bunny was just one of several successes throughout the course of the evening, which yielded $538.9m (with fees) with 91% of its 56 lots sold—only six works had appeared at auction in the past two decades. The total improves on its spring sale from last year by around $10m and comes on the heels of its buoyant Impressionist and Modern sale on Monday, which boasted a bumper crop of fresh-to-market works from major estates like Newhouse and others. “This was the first estate-driven contemporary auction and it was a smash with collectors, which bodes well for the coming years,” Beard says.

Robert Rauschenberg, Buffalo II (1964).
Christie's

Rauschenberg rising

Indeed, the other major sale of the evening was also from a major estate: Robert Rauschenbergs Buffalo II (1964) from the Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer Family collection, which fetched $78m ($88.8m with fees), surpassing its $50m-$70m estimate. Of the 17 guaranteed lots in the sale, it was the only one to be backed by Christie's. It attracted a flurry of bids in the beginning, but two buyers on the phones pushed it by half-million increments past $70m. Rauschenbergs has always been a connoisseurs' market, says the art adviser Todd Levin, who was in the bidding early on for the large, politically charged silkscreen work made just after US President John F. Kennedys assassination. “Koonss bunny might be iconic for the artist, but Buffallo II is an epoch-making piece,” he says.

The adviser Grace Li says the artist has long deserved a market price correction: “It makes no sense that his price was so much lower than peers like Jasper Johns and Cy Twombly for so long. [His] influence on contemporary art in the world, especially China or Latin America, was much bigger than theirs in past decades.”

Top of the pops

Several pieces by Andy Warhol also fared well after years of a cooler secondary market for his works, perhaps a result of renewed attention after the Whitney Museums recent survey of his work. Double Elvis (Ferus Type, 1963) sold for $48m ($53m with fees), while a blue Elizabeth Taylor portrait went for $19.3m with fees, just below its low estimate of $20m. Brett Gorvy of Lévy Gorvy gallery picked up Little Electric Chair from the Newhouse collection for $7m ($8.2m with fees).

Yet some Pop lots flopped—works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring barely registered. The latters 1982 untitled work was bought in at $2.6m just before the formers War Baby (1984) went unsold at $4.8m. Harings well-known and large-scale Silence=Death canvas from 1988 barely met its low estimate of $4.5m even though it had been offered for Read More – Source

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