Francis Bacon and Rothko lead way as auction records tumble

Sotheby's New York takes record $375m in a day as 'Teflon-coated' art market proves its resilience again

LAST UPDATED AT 12:02 ON Thu 15 Nov 2012

THE ART world's apparent immunity to economic hard times has been underlined by the record $375 million paid in a single day for a series of trophy paintings in New York.

The sale of works yesterday by post-war masters including Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock, was the highest one day haul in auction house Sotheby's 268-year history.

On a day when pre-auction estimates were shattered and 85 per cent of the 69 lots found buyers, Rothko's abstract No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue) led the way by selling for $75 million after frenzied bidding.

New auction records were set for six artists, including abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, whose 1951 drip painting Number 4 went under the hammer for $40.4 million. The previous record for a Pollock was $23.04 million set in May this year.

A "screaming pope" piece – called Untitled (Pope) - by British artist Francis Bacon sold for nearly $30 million (pictured above), a Willem de Kooning fetched just under $20 million and a Gerhard Richter scooped $17.4 million.

The New York sale proves the resilience of the elite art market which has mostly been on a roll since making a quick recovery from the 2008 financial crisis.

"The art market is coated with Teflon," Joanne Heyler, director of the Los Angeles-based Broad Art Foundation, told Bloomberg. "Fiscal cliffs, eurozone crises, hurricanes, nothing can really stop it. People are looking for a place to put their money."

But some dealers say extravagant prices are only obtained when the works are by big names and have been locked up in collections for years.

"You don't get new records unless you have things that are perceived to be of the highest quality and are fresh to the market," said New York gallerist Frances Beatty. "In the contemporary market, there's a pretty deep list of collectors who want to reach for trophy pictures." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.