Achieving $640 million and counting, Christie’s 20th/21st Century Art sales lead the market

Rediscover the highlights, from Warhol’s iconic Flowers — Christie's top lot of the week — to the collections of Norman and Lyn Lear and Rosa de la Cruz, whose 100-per-cent-sold auction saw records for Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Ana Mendieta


Christie’s New York concluded a successful series of six live sales for its spring marquee week of 20th/21st Century Art sales on 18 May. The sales, which were led by the 20th Century Evening Sale, the 21st Century Evening Sale and The Rosa de la Cruz Collection Evening Sale, delivered a market-leading performance, realising a combined total of $640,219,290. They were 86 per cent sold by lot and 94 per cent sold by value with 89 per cent of lots selling within or above expectations.

Cultural mainstays like Andy Warhol, Vincent van Gogh and David Hockney led the week, while eight records were set by the likes of: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Ana Mendieta, Martin Wong, Diane Arbus, René Magritte and Alexander Archipenko, among others.

The sales also saw strength in collections including those of Norman and Lyn Lear, Mary and John Pappajohn, Shirley Ann and Frank Wozencraft, and the 100-per-cent-sold Rosa de la Cruz Evening Sale.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Flowers, 1964. Acrylic, fluorescent paint and silkscreen ink on linen. 82 x 82 in (208.3 x 208.3 cm). Sold for $35,485,000 in 20th Century Evening Sale on 16 May 2024 at Christie’s in New York

‘It was such a pleasure for us to once again showcase the greatest collections here at Christie’s,’ said Emily Kaplan, Senior Specialist, Co-head of the 20th Century Evening Sale. ‘We began the week with the Rosa de la Cruz collection and last Thursday we offered works from another great American collector, the legendary television producer Norman Lear and his wife Lyn.’

Despite facing a technology security incident, Christie's held all six 20th/21st Century Art live auctions as scheduled, achieving the highest total of any auction house for the week. ‘When the challenges came up last week, our team came together with strength, resilience and passion,’ said Bonnie Brennan, President of Christie's Americas.

The 20th/21st Century Art online sales continue to be open for bidding with Picasso Ceramics closing 3 June followed by First Open | Post-War and Contemporary Art on 4 June.

The Rosa de la Cruz Collection Evening Sale

The sale week commenced on 14 May with the fully sold sale of the Rosa de la Cruz Collection. At the heart of Miami’s cultural scene for decades, de la Cruz made her mark on the art world yet again at Christie’s New York. The sale achieved $34,363,300 and was 100 per cent sold by lot and value.

The late collector and philanthropist was known for her radical eye, which embraced artists ranging from German abstract painter Albert Oehlen to Miami-based figurative painter Hernan Bas long before the wider art market caught on.

‘Mrs. De la Cruz was a storied art collector who changed the landscape of contemporary art through her patronage,’ said Julian Ehrlich, Specialist, Head of The Rosa de la Cruz Collection Evening Sale. ‘Tonight was a tribute to Rosa, and it was a great success.’

light install

Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996), "Untitled" (America #3), 1992. 42 light bulbs, porcelain light sockets and electrical cord. Length: 504 in (1,280 cm) with 240 in (609 cm) extra cord. Sold for $13,635,000 in The Rosa de la Cruz Collection Evening Sale on 14 May 2024 at Christie’s in New York

The first contemporary work Mrs. de la Cruz acquired was by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, a fellow Cuban-American who fled Fidel Castro’s regime and with whom she formed a great friendship. De la Cruz went on to assemble the most comprehensive collection of Gonzalez-Torres’s work in private hands, with notable pieces from each of his key series, including a 1992 Light String, ‘Untitled’ (America #3). Suspended from the ceiling during the auction, this sculpture sold for $13,635,000 to a room full of applause.

As the sale’s top lot, the work also established a new record for Gonzalez-Torres and was acquired by the Pola Museum of Art in Hakone, Japan. Other Light String sculptures by the artist are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Gonzalez-Torres’s ‘Untitled’, a pair of two conjoined silver-plated brass rings, sold for $554,400, while ‘Untitled’ (Paris, Last Time, 1989), a C-print jigsaw puzzle, achieved $504,000.

Mrs. de la Cruz collected many artists in depth, including Ana Mendieta, who also hailed from Cuba. Mendieta broke her record not once, but twice during the sale. Part of a series in which the artist built objects from sand collected from locations of significance, Untitled (Sandwoman Series/ Serie Mujer de Arena) (1983) sold for $567,000, a new auction record for the multidisciplinary artist. Silueta Works in Mexico, 1973-1977, a suite of 12 colour photographs, more than quintupled its low estimate, selling for $277,200.

ana mendieta

Ana Mendieta (1948-1985), Untitled (Sandwoman Series / Serie Mujer de Arena), 1983. Sand, earth and binder on wood. 55 x 26 x 4 in (139.7 x 66 x 10.2 cm). Sold for $567,000 in The Rosa de la Cruz Collection Evening Sale on 14 May at Christie’s in New York

Mendieta conceived her Siluetas between 1973 and 1980, while living between Iowa, Mexico and New York. These site-specific works, which incorporate Mendieta’s body or its outline with various organic materials such as snow, flowers or mud, have come to define her oeuvre.

21st Century Evening Sale

The 21st Century Evening Sale was anchored by some of the most talked-about names in contemporary art, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Bruce Nauman and Julie Mehretu, and totalled $80,258,980. The sale, which was led by auctioneer Georgina Hilton, was 94 per cent sold by lot and 90 per cent by value.

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), The Italian Version of Popeye has no Pork in his Diet, 1982. Acrylic, oilstick and paper collage on canvas mounted on tied wood supports. 60 x 60 in (152.4 x 152.4 cm). Sold for $32,035,000 in 21st Century Evening Sale on 14 May 2024 at Christie’s in New York

We’re very proud to once again bring together the leading artistic voices on the 21st century platform,’ said Isabella Lauria, Senior Specialist and Head of the 21st Century Evening Sale. ‘What we continue to do and succeed at is being very thoughtful and selective in choosing the best examples by artists from the past 40 years.

The top lot of the evening was Basquiat’s The Italian Version of Popeye has no Pork in his Diet (1982), which achieved $32,035,000. Not seen in public since it was exhibited in the artist’s 1992 retrospective at the Whitney, the multi-layered work showcases many distinctive motifs of Basquiat’s visual language — crowns, text, anatomy and more — while paying homage to his favourite sport: boxing. ‘It’s a tour de force from the artist’s best date — 1982,’ said Lauria. ‘It has everything you would want in a Basquiat.’

Ernst Yohji Jaeger (b. 1990), Untitled 4 (two windows), 2020. Oil on canvas. 21¼ x 17¾ in. (54 x 45 cm). Sold for $73,080 in 21st Century Evening Sale on 14 May 2024 at Christie’s in New York

Martin Wong (1946-1999), Portrait of Mikey Piñero at Ridge Street and Stanton, 1985. Acrylic on canvas. 72 x 72 in (182.9 x 182.9 cm). Sold for $1,623,000 in 21st Century Evening Sale on 14 May 2024 at Christie’s in New York

The sale commenced with excitement around fresh-to-market contemporary works. It opened with Untitled 4 (two windows) (2020) by the German-born, Vienna-based artist Ernst Yohji Jaeger, which realised $73,080. The first painting by the celebrated young artist ever to appear at auction, it is an alluring example of Jaeger’s labour-intensive process.

The following lots showcased artists at the forefront of the cultural conversation. Sally and Miu-Miu (1994) by Takako Yamaguchi, whose paintings are part of the 2024 Whitney Biennial, sold for $579,600. Meanwhile Flower Market (2022) by Louis Fratino, who was selected to participate in this year’s Venice Biennale, more than doubled the high estimate, realising $504,000.

Mumbaphilia (J.E.) (2018) by Julie Mehretu, who is the subject of a major retrospective at Palazzo Grassi in conjunction with the Venice Biennale, fetched $5,858,000. Hanged Man (1985) by Bruce Nauman, whose first retrospective in Asia is currently on view at Tai Kwun in partnership with the Pinault Collection, achieved $4,043,000.

Julie Mehretu (b. 1970), Mumbaphilia (J.E.), 2018. Acrylic and ink on canvas. 96 x 72 in (243.8 x 182.9 cm). Sold for $5,858,000 in 21st Century Evening Sale on 14 May at Christie’s in New York

Several paintings on offer sailed past their estimates. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Black Allegiance to the Cunning (2018) achieved $2,954,000 after a seven-minute bidding war, more than doubling the low estimate, and Marina Perez Simão’s Untitled (2020) more than tripled its low estimate at $352,800.

The 20th Century Evening Sale

On 16 May, the 20th Century Evening Sale achieved the highest individual sale total of the week: $413,324,500. With auctioneer Adrien Meyer at the rostrum, the sale was 95 per cent sold by lot and 96 per cent by value. Led by a rare Warhol Flowers painting, 15 works realised prices above $10 million, with five achieving more than $20 million. The sale also set 2 new artist records for Alexander Archipenko and André Kertész. René Magritte’s Les Graces Naturelles also set a record for a sculpture by the artist.

After a nearly 5-minute bidding war, Andy Warhol’s Flowers (1964) achieved $35,485,000. ‘This painting was special, and I think the market recognises this,’ said Alex Rotter, Chairman, 20th/21st Century Art, noting the canvas’s monumental scale and use of fluorescent paint. The seven-foot canvas, which fuses bold aesthetics and Day-Glo colour, epitomises Warhol’s vision of Pop Art.

David Hockney (b. 1937), A Lawn Being Sprinkled, 1967. Acrylic on canvas. 60 x 60 in (152.4 x 152.4 cm). Sold for $28,585,000 in 20th Century Evening Sale on 16 May 2024 at Christie's in New York

Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), Truth, 1973. Oil on canvas. 54 x 60 in (137.2 x 152.4 cm). Sold for $14,785,000 in the 20th Century Evening Sale on 16 May at Christie’s in New York

The night was led by the Collection of Norman and Lyn Lear, which totalled $60,175,700. Built by the television pioneer and his wife over decades, the standout collection included quintessential modern and post-war artists such as David Hockney, whose A Lawn Being Sprinkled was the third highest total of the evening at $28,585,000. A centrepiece of the collection, the painting is a part of Hockney’s well-known California Dreaming series.

Ed Ruscha’s Truth also left a bold impression on the evening, surpassing its high estimate and realising $14,785,000. One of his iconic text paintings, the image resonates with Lear’s groundbreaking approach in his work and life, as he revolutionised television to truthfully reflect the world around him.

Roy Lichtenstein’s I Love Liberty (1981), which was commissioned by Lear for his 1982 I Love Liberty television special, turned heads when it more than tripled its high estimate, selling for $2,349,000.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Coin de jardin avec papillons, 1887. Oil on canvas. 19¾ x 24¼ in (50.4 x 61.4 cm). Sold for $33,185,000 in 20th Century Evening Sale on 16 May 2024 at Christie's in New York

Impressionism also had a strong presence in the sale. The movement, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, had its first exhibition at 35 Boulevard des Capucines in 1874.

Van Gogh’s Post-Impressionist Coin de Jardin avec papillons (1887) achieved the second highest price at $33,185,000. The painting, made during one of the artist’s periods of intense experimentation, finds him embracing a brighter colour palette and lightening his brushstrokes in his naturalist exploration.

‘This work is all about radical modernity,’ said David Kleiweg de Zwaan, Senior Specialist, Impressionist and Modern Art. ‘It’s very rare, frankly, to see a painting that so clearly lies at the foundation of modernism. He’s laying the groundwork for everything that came after.’

Coming from the collection of American collector Ethel B. Atha’s heirs and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Moulin de Limetz (1888) fetched $21,685,000. Monet’s relationship with rural France is well known from the numerous canvasses he made at his home in Giverny, but his time in Limetz-Villez — a town about a mile South of Giverny.

Claude Monet (1840-1926), Moulin de Limetz, 1888. Oil on canvas. 36⅜ x 28⅝ in (92.5 x 72.8 cm). Sold for $21,685,000 in 20th Century Evening Sale on 16 May 2024 at Christie’s in New York

‘There’s this kaleidoscopic colour across the water, like a rainbow reflecting the scenery behind it,’ says Imogen Kerr, Senior Specialist, Co-head of 20th Century Evening Sale. ‘It’s like a 360-degree view of nature made through reflections and refractions of light.’

Surrealism is likewise celebrating a milestone this year with the movement’s centennial. René Magritte’s Les Graces Naturelles more than doubled its high estimate when it realised $3,680,000, setting a record for a work in sculpture by the artist, while Joan Miró’s Femme et oiseau ou Le réveil de l'étoile amour I (1968) achieved $1,865,000.

20th/21st Century Art Day Sales

Christie’s marquee week continued on 17 May with the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale, which totalled $75,123,450 million. The top lot of the sale was Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) (1967), which sold for $3,680,000. A new record was also established for Bob Thompson, as his Music Lesson more than tripled its low estimate when it sold for $1,260,000.

This sale was followed by the Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper Sale and the Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale on 18 May. Together, the two sales achieved more than $31,961,500.

The Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper Sale brought a total of $11,855,500. It was led by Salvador Dalí’s Rhinocéros (recto); Etude pour Rhinocéros (verso) (1959), which sold for $1,744,000 — more than four times its low estimate.

The afternoon’s Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale followed, totalling $25,293,560, with the top lot, Claude Monet’s Prairie à Giverny (1886), selling for $2,228,000. The work was painted at Giverny, his beloved town about 50 miles northeast of Paris, where he found boundless inspiration in its idyllic landscape.

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