Yesterday's sale of author Michael Crichton's art collection netted a whopping $93.3 million, setting a new record for a Jasper Johns artwork (as we predicted on Monday). The writer, who died last year and was a longtime friend of Johns, had bought the iconic "Flag, 1960-1966" from the artist almost 40 years ago. Auctioneer Christie's International brought the gavel down on the Stars and Stripes artwork for $28.6 million, busting the previous record for a painting by Johns by over $11 million. The rest of the author's collection sold above estimates as well.
The gallery where the auction was held, on the second floor of Chrisite's Rockefeller Center headquarters, was jammed with high rollers. A clutch of Upper East Side champagne blondes hung on men with Gordon Gekko-like slicked back hair in the equivalent of the orchestra seats. In the back, a pair of artfully nipped and tucked women, dripping with diamond bracelets and Louis Vuitton leather goods, climbed over chairs to try and snag a seat.
Attendees included Marc Jacobs, Salman Rushdie, Michael Ovitz, and Peter Brant. Around 75% of the buyers were American. Eli Broad, the L.A.-based financier put it thus: "No one wants paper money—they all want art."
The evening started badly, with Crichton's name misspelled on monitors in the showroom, but Christie's staff quickly recovered and put on a rollicking good show, with the auctioneer becoming increasingly gleeful as the high bids piled up. When Johns's "Flag" was unveiled, a buzz ran through the room. Bidding raced ever higher, topping $15M in under 15 seconds before coming to a close at $25.5 (before Christie's commissions, etc.)
The whole contemporary art sale, including works by Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, Pablo Picasso and Roy Lichtenstein, raised almost a quarter of a billion dollars—$231.9 million, to be precise. As well as Johns, a quartet of artists set records: Sam Francis, Lee Bontecou, Christopher Wool, and Mark Tansey.
Tansey's piece, "Push/Pull" a large canvas, painted in blue, that features ex PR bad girl Lizzie Grubman inching out over a crevice on a ledge that, under close inspection, is revealed to be a smashed Mercedes SUV (above), sold for $3,218,500 — far above its high estimate of $1.2M. Eli Broad lost the bidding war for that particular piece.
It is not known where the Jasper Johns piece is going, although it was eventually snapped up by New York dealer Michael Altman, who described it as "an iconic, quintessential masterpiece."
Additional reporting by Linda Tischler.