New York Art sales Near $3 billion in Two Weeks as Uber-rich Hunt Trophies

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Sotheby's sold $859 million, including $157.2 million for a Modigliani nude -- the most expensive lot of the season. Courtesy Sotheby's. by Jennie Matthew

Global buyers have dropped nearly $3 billion on art in New York in two weeks, a record haul rooted in a billionaire thirst for trophies, Chinese purchasing power and growing diversification.

Christie’s chalked up $1.79 billion in sales, including every single item from the iconic collection of the late David and Peggy Rockefeller which, for the first time, spread their flagship May sales across two weeks.

Sotheby’s sold $859 million, including $157.2 million for a Modigliani nude — the most expensive lot of the season, after Christie’s last November smashed records by selling a single Leonardo da Vinci for $450.3 million.

“It’s colossal. It really is huge and especially after the dip of 2016,” says Georgina Adam, author of the “Dark Side of the Boom: The Excesses of the Art Market in the 21st Century.”

“As long as the auction houses have really managed to do their marketing very well and reach a big audience of collectors, the top end of the market is still doing very well,” says Rachel Pownall, a professor of finance at Maastricht University School of Business and Economics.

Christie’s sold the Rockefeller collection for $832.5 million, breaking the previous record for most expensive private collection — that of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge which went for $484 million in 2009.

The Rockefellers’ jewels included a $115 million Picasso, the seventh most expensive artwork sold at auction, and new auction records for work by Claude Monet at $84.6 million and Henri Matisse at $80.7 million.

“The Rockefeller did have an influence. Those were very, very good works and they had this really fantastic provenance,” Adam said. “I think that sort of set the scene for the whole week.” 

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