While many art world insiders went into 2018 wondering if it would be possible for any lot to top the record-smashing sale of the Salvator Mundi, a 500-year-old oil on panel hailed as the “last Leonardo in private hands”—none did—the auction world was not without its headline-grabbing moments. Here are 5 lots that sent ripples through the art world in 2018:
1. Banksy, Girl with Balloon (2006)
The Frieze Week sale of postwar and contemporary art at Sotheby’s in London on October 5 ended with a stunning piece of performance art by British street artist Banksy. As the gavel fell on his Girl with Balloon (2006) for £860,000 ($1.13 million)—catalog Lot 67 and the evening’s final offering—the “spray paint and acrylic on canvas, mounted on board” began to slowly slip through a built-in shredder hidden within the frame as the prankster artist posted on Instagram “Going, going, gone.” Within a fortnight of the escapade, the artist released a video detailing how he pulled off the caper with the aid of a remote controlled device. According to the video, the entire work was to have been destroyed, not merely half of it. When all was said and done, Girl with Balloon sold for £1,042,000 ($1,357,726) with premium, more than triple its £300,000 ($390,000) high estimate. And its buyer—a “female European collector”—it seems, was happy to take home the half-shredded work. In the wake of the event, the work was rechristened Love Is in the Bin, and the artist—the likely consignor—has since reissued a certificate of authenticity. Despite claims to the contrary, Girl with Balloon/Love Is in the Bin actually fell short of Banksy’s artist record at auction—set with the sale of Keep it Spotless (2007) for $1,870,000 at Sotheby’s New York in February 2008.
2. Portrait of Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy (2018)
Christie’s struck gold as it continued on its path of forging new territory with the offering of Portrait of Edmond de Belamy (2018), the first work of art to hit the auction block that was generated not by an artist of the likes of Leonardo but by an algorithm—a computer program—in its sale of Prints & Multiples on October 25. Tagged at $7,000 to $10,000, the work sold for $432,500—more that 40 times its high estimate after a 7-minute bidding war that pitted three telephone bidders against an online bidder in France and a gentleman in the room.
The portrait, one of a series of eleven unique images of members of the fictitious Belamy family, was published by Hugo Caselles-Dupré, Pierre Fautrel, and Gauthier Vernier of the Paris-based collective Obvious Art. In recent years, the inquisitive trio has been exploring the interface between art and artificial intelligence, going so far as to pioneer a method for creating artworks that goes by the acronym GAN, which stands for “generative adversarial network.” In the wake of the sale, Obvious Collective issued a statement to Robb Report: “We would like to thank the A.I. community, especially to those who have been pioneering the use of this new technology. It is an exciting moment and our hope is that the spotlight on this sale will bring forward the amazing work that our predecessors and colleagues have been producing. We are grateful to Christie’s for opening up this dialogue in the art community and honored to have been a part of this global conversation about the impact of this new technology in the creation of art.”
3. David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972)
After a bidding war that lasted 9 minutes at Christie’s in New York on November 15, David Hockney’s 1972 canvas Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) was hammered in at its unpublished pre-sale estimate of $80 million, making it the most expensive work by a living artist. The final sale price with a premium of $90,312,500 for the handsomely scaled acrylic on canvas, which was the centerpiece of the 81-year-old British artist’s recent retrospective at Tate Britain and the Metropolitan Museum of Art more than tripled Hockney’s own artist record at auction, which was set at Sotheby’s New York in May with the sale of Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica (1990) for $28,453,000. It also crushed the previous auction record for a work by a living artist—held by Jeff Koons’s Balloon Dog (Orange) (1994-2000), which achieved $58.4 million at Christie’s in New York in November 2013.
4. Kerry James Marshall, Past Times (1997)
There is little doubt that African-American artists have lagged behind their Caucasian counterparts when it comes to the prices their works command at auction but it was refreshing to see that the gap just may be narrowing with the sale of Kerry James Marshall’s acrylic and collage on canvas, Past Times (1997) for $21.1 million on an estimate of $8 million to $12 million at Sotheby’s in New York on May 16. Not only did the price with premium more than quadruple Marshall’s previous record at auction of $5,037,500, set by Still Life with Wedding Portrait (2015) at Christie’s in New York in November 2017, it set a new record at auction for a living African-American artist. The previous record of $12 million was set by Mark Bradford’s 12-foot-wide mixed media on canvas Helter Skelter I, which sold at Phillips in London in March 2018. Past Times was acquired by music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs.
5. 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO
Fans of classic cars took notice when bidding for a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO crossed the $48.4 million mark at RM Sotheby’s in Monterey on August 25 to become the most expensive car ever sold at auction. The price easily overtook the $38.1 million paid for a same-year 250 GTO Berlinetta, which sold at a Bonhams auction during Monterey Car Week in 2014. The GTO (chassis No. 3413 with matching engine No.) is one of only 36 examples made, and the third one to be produced.