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10 Artworks that sold for a combined $1 Billion at Auction

December 21, 2015

It’s the end of the year and time to reflect on the top art sales at auction.  Bloomberg News published a summary of the ten top-selling lots sold at auction this year.  The low end of the range was $56 million for Lucian Freud’s, Benefits Supervisor Resting, and a mind-boggling (to some) $179 million for Pablo Picasso, Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’).  This sale had the distinction of being the highest price ever paid for a work at auction.

The summary stated the obvious in explaining the common traits, painting (9 out of 10), sold by Christie’s (7 out of 10) the clear winner in the auction race this year, sold in New York (taxes in Europe have all but guaranteed that top lots will not be sold in London or Paris) and created by a white male artist (10 out of 10).  This phenomenon is a function of the bias of the art world which until recently was generally reluctant to call anyone other than a white male an artist. While most artists struggled to make a living, non-white and non-male artists had a greater struggle.

A more interesting story is the rising interest in works by non-white males and by women.  As covered by the New York Times in November black artists are gaining recognition by American museums.  Norman Lewis said in 1979. I think it’s going to take about 30 years, maybe 40, before people stop caring whether I’m black and just pay attention to the work.’ It’s happening now.  A wikipedia listing of  Martin Puryear who will be featured in an exhibition opening at the Art Institute of Chicago in February, 2016 simply describes him as “an American artist.” The smart money in 2016 will be in search of previously under-rated and ignored artists.