On Monday night, a 58 year-old silkscreen by Andy Warhol sold at Christie’s for a record $195 million.
The superlatives abound: With the stroke of a gavel, it became the most expensive 20th century artwork to ever sell at auction; the most expensive American artwork to ever sell at auction; and the second most expensive publicly sold artwork in history. (The $450 million Leonardo da Vinci is still in first place.) Dealer Larry Gagosian, who was in the room, was the winning bidder.
The painting, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, was created by Warhol in 1964. It, along with the 35 other lots in the sale, was consigned by the Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation in Zurich. Thomas, a noted art dealer and collector, died of AIDS-related complications in 1993; his sister Doris took over the gallery and ran it until her death last year. All of the sale’s proceeds will go to the foundation, which is devoted to healthcare and educational programs.
The prior record for an American artwork was $110.5 million for an untitled Basquiat in 2017.
The Marilyn was the last lot in the sale, meaning that despite protracted bidding for many of the other lots, spectators inside Christie’s New York sales room stayed firmly in their seats until the end. (Under normal circumstances, 8 p.m. is the witching hour, when dealers and collectors pop out of their chairs to make their dinner reservations in time.)
Even though its presale estimate was $200 million, the auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen began bidding well below that amount, throwing out a starting bid of $110 million, then $120 million, until he heard what appeared to be his first real offer at $140 million. From there, at least three bidders— two on the phone and Gagosian in the room, quickly pushed the price up by $10 million increments.
After just three and a half minutes, Jussi Pylkkänen brought down the hammer at $170 million. With auction house fees, known as the buyer’s premium, the work’s total came to its final, $195 million price.
Once the gavel came down, the room burst into applause, and the audience quickly filed out. As he was leaving the sale, Gagosian declined to comment.
Dealers often buy on behalf of clients who would prefer to remain anonymous. Gagosian has a roster of deep-pocketed billionaire clientele, including Steve Cohen, David Geffen, and Ronald Lauder.
Monday night’s sale is the first in a two-week long auction bonanza. This week, Christie’s is hoping to sell about $1.5 billion worth of modern and contemporary art. Next week, Sotheby’s is hoping to sell $1.18 billion.