Art Market

10 Buzzy Auction Records Set in 2022

Brian Ng
Dec 15, 2022 4:18PM

In 2022, the global auction market reemerged. Most countries lifted restrictions on international travel, and even with the economic uncertainty and global instability from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, collectors were undeterred. Lots at the three major auction houses saw some of the biggest sales ever reached.

Collectors’ interest was spread for artists across categories, too. Records were broken for not just the standard Old Masters and big-name modernist painters (though there were plenty of those), but also women artists who’ve long been in the shadow of their male contemporaries, such as Surrealists Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning, and Valentine Hugo; and Abstract Expressionists Lynne Drexler, Grace Hartigan, and Elaine de Kooning. Artworks by artists of minority groups, too, are also picking up steam with their prices, aided by institutions globally dedicating more solo retrospective and group shows: Emily Kame Kngwarreye led the way for Indigenous Australian artists, and numerous overlooked Black artists are cracking the $500,000 mark.

Another often neglected area getting some attention is photography. It took until the 1980s for it to be regarded by the wider art community as a formal discipline, but is still regarded, price-wise, as inferior to painting and sculpture. This year, though, two major works smashed the former record for photography ($4.3 million for Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II, 1999): Man Ray’s original Le Violon d’Ingres (1924) for $12.4 million, and Edward Steichen’s The Flatiron (1904)—the only edition out of three to still be in private hands—which went for $11.8 million.

Here is our selection of 10 works that represent the breadth of these new records. (Prices include fees.)

This article is part of The Art Market Recap 2022—a look at the major sales, trends, and artists that made an impact this year. Download the full report here.

Andrew Wyeth, Day Dream, 1980

$23,290,000 (Estimate: $2,000,000–$3,000,000)

Christie’s, Nov. 2022

Previous record: $10,344,000, May 2007

Andrew Wyeth, Day Dream, 1980. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

Andrew Wyeth’s Day Dream (1980) was one of many records set during the sale of Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen’s collection at Christie’s during the New York fall auctions (it used to be part of the collection of oil magnate Armand Hammer). Going for 10 times the estimate, though, was rather unexpected: Wyeth’s last record was set for Ericksons (1973) in 2007, a painting three times the size of Day Dream.

The American realist painted the subject of Day Dream, German nurse Helga Testoff—who worked at a neighboring farm—more than 240 times between 1971 and 1985. Day Dream is one of a handful of Wyeth’s works that were shown and sold at the time. Their importance was eventually reflected by an exhibition entitled “The Helga Pictures,” which toured major institutions in the U.S. between 1987 and 1989.

Ernie Eugene Barnes, The Sugar Shack, 1976

$15,275,000 (Estimate: $150,000–$200,000)

Christie’s, May 2022

Previous record: $550,000, Nov. 2021

Ernie Eugene Barnes, The Sugar Shack, 1976. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.


Ernie Eugene Barnes’s works have been on a tear recently: His previous record was set with Ballroom Soul (1978), which went for $550,000 only six months before The Sugar Shack’s sale at Christie’s in May, for a whopping 100 times its low estimate. Ten more of his works sold for more than $500,000 after The Sugar Shack’s sale, compared to just one in the year before.

The Sugar Shack is exemplary of Barnes’s work, which is renowned for its depiction of Black joy. It was painted 20 years after the former professional football player snuck into the Durham Armory, a dance hall in North Carolina, during the last few years of Black segregation. It is also part of the recent trend of recognizing previously overlooked artists, along with Beauford Delaney, Noah Davis, and Howardena Pindell, who all set six-figure records this year.

Man Ray, Le Violon d’Ingres, 1924

$12,412,500 (Estimate: $5,000,000–$7,000,000)

Christie’s, May 2022

Previous record: $5,877,000, Nov. 2013

Man Ray, Le Violon d’Ingres, 1924. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

Rosalind and Melvin Jacobs’s collection of Surrealist works, auctioned by Christie’s in May, was a display of love—not just for the works of art themselves, but for the artists behind them, too.

The Jacobs, through numerous trips to Paris, became acquainted with the French Surrealists and brought back new pieces every time they went over. Rosalind traveled to Paris frequently in the 1950s during her time as a buyer for the department store Macy’s. Man Ray, a leader of the Surrealism movement, was well known at the time but his work wasn’t selling very much. Rosalind’s purchases helped him pay the bills.

It’s because of this close connection that they were offered the opportunity to buy Le Violon d’Ingres (1924) from the artist, who’d kept it in his possession when it was being shown at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in 1962. This is the sole original of the photo, which depicts the back of performer Kiki de Montparnasse (subsequent editions were made from copy negatives), and it broke the record price for a photograph.

Instead of drawing on f-figures copied from the f-hole of a violin (where the sound comes out)—there was an edition given to French writer André Breton made this way—Man Ray first exposed the holes onto the photographic paper using cut-out cardboard before exposing Kiki’s image over the top. The May auction was the first time the picture had been put on sale properly since its creation almost 80 years ago.

Yayoi Kusama, Untitled (Nets), 1959

$10,496,000 (Estimate: $5,000,000–$7,000,000)

Phillips, May 2022

Previous record: $8,058,936, Dec. 2021

Popular favorite Yayoi Kusama continues to ascend to superstar status: Her “Infinity Mirror Rooms,” which started touring the world in 2017, are still on show at London’s Tate Modern, which has extended its run to April next year. A new work was also commissioned for the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Australia’s new Sydney Modern building, which opened this month.

Beating her auction record of just over $8 million from December 2021 for Pumpkin LPASG (2013), May’s sale was for one of Kusama’s earliest works in her “Infinity Nets” series. The works are monochromatic—she painted in dashes of white on gray and black backgrounds—and straddle the dominant Abstract Expressionist and burgeoning Minimalist movements of the time. It was this balance that perhaps led to the works being collected by future heavyweights such as Donald Judd, Frank Stella, and Günther Uecker, the last of whom was the original owner of this painting.

Adrian Ghenie, Pie Fight Interior 12, 2014

$10,326,444 (Estimate: $8,662,696–$12,484,474)

Christie’s, May 2022

Previous record: $9,028,430, Oct. 2016

Adrian Ghenie, Pie Fight Interior 12, 2014. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

Pie Fight Interior 12 (2014) is inspired by slapstick films: Characters’ faces are smeared with custard pies. These interactions with the films and tropes of the pre-meme era are frequently presented in Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie’s works. His last record, set in 2016, was for a work called Nickelodeon (2008). His images, which are swirled, slathered, and dashed in a similar style to Francis Bacon, try to recapture the grittiness of the world before the internet and what the artist calls “the texture of easy-to-clean surfaces.”

With a solo show at St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum in 2019–20, Ghenie is returning to the art world spotlight, after building his own platform with his gallery Galeria Plan B, which he founded along with curator and fellow Romanian Mihai Pop in 2005.

Barbara Hepworth, Elegy III, 1966–67

$8,634,000 (Estimate: $3,000,000–$5,000,000)

Christie’s, Nov. 2022

Previous record: $7,110,000, May 2021

Barbara Hepworth, Elegy III, 1966–67. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

Barbara Hepworth is one of only a few women artists who received international recognition during their lifetime. While the world continues to catch up, Hepworth’s works have been going from strength to strength at auction houses: Her previous record of $7.1 million was set in May 2021, for Parent II (1970). Elegy III (1966–67) is the third in a trio of sculptures.

While the first two are wood carvings, Elegy III is a bronze cast of Hollow Form with White (1965). It is typical of her works, which feature sweeping curves and hollows that mimic the landscape near the Cornish town of St. Ives, where she lived for much of her life. A retrospective is currently on show until May 1, 2023, at the nearby Tate St. Ives.

Mary Cassatt, Young Lady in a Loge Gazing to Right, 1878–79

$7,489,000 (Estimate: $3,000,000–$5,000,000)

Christie’s, Oct. 2022

Previous record: $4,812,500, May 2007

Mary Cassatt, Young Lady in a Loge Gazing to Right, 1878–79. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

Invited by Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt was the only American artist who showed with the French Impressionists, in 1881. As well as beating her previous auction record from 2007 for Children Playing With A Dog (1907) by more than $2 million, Young Lady in a Loge Gazing to Right (1878–79) is also exceptional for not being a painting on maternity, for which Cassatt is best known. It’s also a work on paper and will be displayed as part of the exhibition “Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec” at the U.K.’s Royal Academy of Art, opening in November 2023.

This past year has been a bumper year for Christie’s, which has led the way for single-collection auctions. This Cassatt work was part of the sale of Ann and Gordon Getty’s collection, which exceeded $150 million. This artwork also held a special sentimental value as it was a gift from Gordon to Ann, and was hung in their bedroom.

Matthew Wong, The Night Watcher, 2018

$5,897,150 (Estimate: $1,500,000–$2,000,000)

Sotheby’s, May 2022

Previous record: $4,871,347, Dec. 2020

Matthew Wong, The Night Watcher, 2018. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The Night Watcher (2018) is one of Chinese Canadian artist Matthew Wong’s more lonesome works, showing a solo person walking through the snow under oversized pine trees and a blazing egg-yolk sun. Wong’s career has an unfortunate similarity to Vincent van Gogh’s: They both died by suicide, and experienced skyrocketing prices after their passing.

After Wong passed away in 2019, the buzz around his works reached a cacophony as he broke his record, originally set in 2020, twice: First on May 10th at Christie’s, with Green Room (2017) for $5.3 million; then with TheNight Watcher at Sotheby’s flagship “The Now” auction just over a week later.

Avery Singer, Happening, 2014

$5,253,000 (Estimate: $2,500,000–$3,500,000)

Sotheby’s, May 2022

Previous record: $4,498,027, Nov. 2021

Avery Singer, Happening, 2014. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

At the tender age of 34, Avery Singer became the youngest artist on the books of mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth last year. The artist stays mainly in grayscale, and Happening is made like much of her other works, eschewing what many associate with traditional painting.

Singer constructs her scenes on the software program Google SketchUp and then projects these 3D renderings onto the canvas before applying the paint using masking tape and an airbrush. The resulting matte acrylic paintings challenge viewers’ perception of visual depth.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, The Beautyful Ones, 2012

$4,740,000 (Estimate: $4,000,000–$6,000,000)

Christie’s, Nov. 2022

Previous record: $3,375,000, May 2018

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, The Beautyful Ones, 2012. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

The Beautyful Ones (2012) is the first and largest work of the ongoing series of the same name by artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby consisting of portraits of Nigerian children. This edition portrays the artist’s sister at 10 years old, surrounded by a collage of family photos.

This same painting set Akunyili Crosby’s then-record in 2017 when it was sold by Christie’s for £2.5 million ($3.08 million), before Bush Babies (2017), a collaged painting of plants, sold for $3.4 million in May 2018 at Sotheby’s. With these sales, Akunyili Crosby bypasses the prices achieved by leading women Abstract Expressionists and Surrealists.

Brian Ng