Jeff Koons’s record-breaking Rabbit shines bright in New York

Sculpture sells for $91,075,000 as Koons becomes world’s most expensive living artist; 1964 Rauschenberg breaks record at $88,805,000; Post-War and Contemporary Art sales total $631,949,875 across the season

In the 33 years since it was first shown at Ileana Sonnabend’s gallery in New York, many thousands of words have been written about Jeff Koons’s controversial, stainless-steel Rabbit. In the debates that have raged it has variously been described as cute, sinister, cartoonish, imposing, vacuous, sexy, chilling, dazzling and iconic. 

Those inside Christie’s Rockefeller Center saleroom on Wednesday evening were treated to a new chapter in the story, however, as this gleaming, 41-inch-high bunny sold for $91,075,000 (including buyer’s premium) — a new world auction record for a work by a living artist. 

Rabbit  was one of 11 works offered during 20th Century Week from The Collection of S.I. Newhouse, a stellar grouping that fetched $216,287,500. ‘On behalf of the family and myself I want to express our gratitude for the great work Christie’s has done,’ said Tobias Meyer, adviser to the Newhouse family, after the auction. ‘We are delighted with the results.’

The Koons was in good company: the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale totalled $538,971,750 / £418,131,691 — 91 per cent sold by lot and 95 per cent by value — and saw records set for a number of other leading artists. Sales of Post-War and Contemporary art across three sales realised $631,949,875.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Rabbit, executed in 1986. This work is number two from an edition of three plus one artist's proof and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist. Stainless steel. 41 x 19 x 12 in (104.1 x 48.3 x 30.5 cm). Sold for $91,075,000 on 15 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York © Jeff Koons

The Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer Family Collection represented one of the strongest selections of Pop art ever presented at auction, achieving $174,485,000 across the week. The dedicated selection of works which opened the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale  fetched $157,221,000. 

Click here to watch a replay of the auction in full — for full results see below

The group was led by Robert Rauschenberg’s Buffalo II, which was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1964 as part of a group exhibition for which Rauschenberg became the first American to win the coveted Grand Prize in Painting.

Bidding for Buffalo II  continued for just short of 11 minutes, which saw the price soaring past the previous world auction record for the artist before the victorious bid took it to $88,805,000. Moments later, Roy Lichtenstein’s Kiss  (1962) realised $31,135,000, and a world auction record was set for Larry Rivers when The Last Civil War Veteran  sold for $1,215,000. 

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), Buffalo II, painted in 1964. Oil and silkscreen ink on canvas. 96 x 72 in (243.8 x 183.8 cm). Sold for $88,805,000 on 15 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York © 2019 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Right Society (ARS), New York

Shortly afterwards, Spider  by Louise Bourgeois, a monumental creation that dwarfs the viewer under its graceful curves, sold for $32,055,000. Conceived in 1996 and cast in 1997, the spider — an autobiographical leitmotif in Bourgeois’s work — established a new world auction record for the French-American artist, and a new record for a contemporary sculpture by a female artist.

Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), Spider, conceived in 1996, cast in 1997. This work is number two from an edition of six with one artist's proof and one unique bronze variant, plus one unique sculpture in steel. Bronze. 128 ½ x 298 x 278 in (326.3 x 756.9 x 706.1 cm). Sold for $32,055,000 on 15 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Elsewhere, there were notable results for Double Elvis [Ferus Type]  by Andy Warhol, which realised $53,000,000; for Frank Stella’s Point of Pines  from 1959, which set a new world auction record for the artist at $28,082,500; for Richard Diebenkorn’s Berkeley #32, which sold for $9,922,500, contributing to combined total of $30,645,375 for The Collection of Dorothy and Richard Sherwood on to $30,377,500; for KAWS, whose KURFS (TANGLE)  realised $2,655,000, more than three times the high estimate; and for Daniel Buren, whose Peinture aux formes indéfinies  sold for $2,175,000, a new auction record for the artist. 

The final lot of the night, Japanese Garden 3  by Jonas Wood, saw 16 phone bidders join the fray. Painted this year, the work was sold to create and fund a future National Park and to conserve one of the wettest tropical forests in the Americas. This art and conservation project is being guided by Art to Acres, an artist-directed initiative partnering with Christie’s. The sale of the painting for $4,928,500 — almost 10 times the low estimate — will now leverage matching funds totalling 400 percent from Global Wildlife Conservation and Rainforest Trust.

The following day, the Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session  made $56,231,750, and included five artist auction records, while the Afternoon Session  realised $36,746,375, and featured two artist auction records. This brought the total for Post -War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s during 20th Century Week to $631,949,875, out of a season total of $1,072,596,250.

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