$450 Million Leonardo da Vinci Stuns Art World and Smashes Records—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Artsy Editors
Nov 17, 2017 10:27PM

01  Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi sold for $450 million at Christie’s on Wednesday, becoming the most expensive artwork of all time.


Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen began bidding for the Leonardo painting, lot nine in the house’s post-war and contemporary evening auction, at $70 million. After some anxious early seconds of tepid reception, bidding took off, surpassing the rumored $300 million that billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin paid for Willem de Kooning’s Interchange (1955) in 2015, the most expensive art transaction ever publicly reported until the Wednesday sale at Christie’s. After 19 minutes of bidding that eventually narrowed down to a jousting match between two clients bidding over the phone, the price hit $400 million, and that was the end (the total paid, with fees, came to about $450 million). The room clapped, gasped, and laughed, the way one does when seeing something simultaneously historic, unbelievable, and more than a little crazy.  

02  The major evening auctions in New York this week brought in a combined total of $1.5 billion with fees, excluding the work by Leonardo.


New York’s fall auction week kicked off Monday evening with a strong $480.4 million sale of Impressionist and Modern art at Christie’s, the house’s highest total for the category in a decade. Driven by a record-breaking Fernand Léger painting and fervent bidding for a landscape by Vincent van Gogh, the auction brought in $416.2 million before buyer’s fees, on pre-sale estimates between $360 million and $476 million. Tuesday evening’s sale of Impressionist and Modern art at Sotheby’s brought in $269.6 million, a 71% rise from the prior year’s sale, but well short of rival Christie’s Monday night haul. Nearly all of the 64 works at Sotheby’s found a buyer (often in Asia), for a 92% sell-through rate by lot. But many of the works sold after just a few bids and for below their low estimates, including some of the bigger-ticket items. The spectacular result for the Leonardo da Vinci painting at Christie’s post-war and contemporary auction Wednesday is likely best viewed as an entirely separate sale compared to the solid, but not jaw-dropping, results obtained by the evening’s actual post-war and contemporary art. Across Wednesday night’s sale, the sell-through rate was a solid 84% by lot. The total haul sans-Leonardo was $338.9 million, or $292 million before fees. Phillips posted solid numbers at Thursday night’s New York evening sale, ending at $114.8 million, or $96.3 million before fees, led by Peter Doig’s Red House (1995–96). Sotheby’s posted a solid contemporary sale Thursday evening as well, bringing in $310.2 million over 72 lots, or $267.4 million before buyer’s fees, with a notable 96% of lots sold. Bidding on many of the higher-end lots was thin, but a fair number of them—44 in all, or 61% of the sale—came with guarantees or irrevocable bids, suggesting that the auction house preferred to cut deals ahead of the sale rather than hold out for a little drama in the room.

03 Two Swiss journalists covering the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi were detained by authorities in the country for over 50 hours.

(via Al Jazeera)

Journalist Serge Enderlin and cameraman Jon Bjorgvinsson were accredited and slated to interview the museum’s architect, Jean Nouvel. But they were held by authorities after taking photos of migrant workers at an open-air market in Abu Dhabi last Thursday, according Swiss broadcaster Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS), the pair’s employer. The two were blindfolded by United Arab Emirates (UAE) police, who reportedly wanted to know why the journalists were taking the photos and if they had any connection to foreign governments or NGOs. Enderlin and Bjorgvinsson were separated and subjected to interrogation sessions, which sometimes lasted 10 hours without breaks. The pair were eventually released after signing a document written in Arabic that Enderlin said he could not read. Labor practices in Abu Dhabi are notoriously appalling, with migrant workers toiling in conditions that resemble slavery. Critics have argued that the Louvre Abu Dhabi was constructed using forced labor, though the museum denies the charges. “All we wanted to do was put the opening of the Louvre in a wider context - as a flip-side to the glitz of the museum, we wanted to show the migrant workers who actually built it,” Enderlin told Al Jazeera.

04  The New Museum has announced the artist list for its 2018 Triennial.

(via the New Museum)

The New York museum’s fourth triennial, titled “Songs for Sabotage,” will run from February 13th through May 27th. The exhibit, which focuses on bringing emerging international artists to New York, will involve works by 26 young artists from 19 countries, the majority of whom have not been exhibited in the United States. Curated by Gary Carrion-Murayari and Alex Gartenfeld, the exhibition will span all four gallery floors of the downtown space. Among the artists included are Violet Dennison, Tomm El-Saieh, Diamond Stingily, and Lydia Ourahmane. The exhibition “questions how individuals and collectives around the world might effectively address the connection of images and culture to the forces that structure our society,” according to the museum’s press release. Co-curator Gartenfeld said the exhibit “highlights artists whose interventions into the mechanics of culture and daily life are reestablishing common ground, and powerfully, poignantly advocate for systemic changes in global culture.”

05  Police are searching for a woman caught on surveillance footage mailing back two photos stolen from MoMA PS1.

(via the New York Post)

The two gelatin silver prints by Alex V. Sobolewski, valued at $55,000 and $50,000 apiece, were reported missing in late October, after an unknown thief took them from the “Carolee Schneemann: Kinetic Painting” exhibition on view at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City. On Friday, the institution received a FedEx box with the two stolen works inside. Both pieces were back on view as of Sunday. Surveillance footage at the Office 11211 store on Bedford Avenue, where the package was sent from on Thursday, caught a woman, described as being in her twenties, dropping off the box. Police are now actively seeking her as a suspect in the crime, and if caught, she could face charges of grand larceny and possession of stolen property, according to the Post. The motive for the crime is not publicly known.

06  Walker Art Center director Olga Viso has stepped down from her post amid “a challenging year” for the institution, which included tension with the board and controversial artwork.

(via StarTribune)

On Tuesday, the Minneapolis museum announced that Viso, who has served as executive director since 2008, would be resigning, effective by the end of the year. Viso oversaw the ambitious expansion of the museum’s sculpture garden, which initially included the contentious Sam Durant sculpture Scaffold (2012). The work, modeled partially on gallows where 38 Native Americans were hung following the U.S.-Dakota War in 1862, prompted anger and calls for Viso’s resignation. Viso apologized and met with Dakota elders to discuss work’s eventual removal, though the incident prompted a formal board investigation (the results of which have not been made public). Sources close to the board described Viso’s resignation as “the end result of a months-long process fueled by unusually high turnover among Walker staff and demonstrations against the ‘Scaffold’ sculpture” that postponed the garden’s opening until June, wrote the StarTribune. A Walker spokeswoman called the move “Olga’s decision,” but added that the board is “in strong agreement” with the timing of her resignation. Four senior staffers will serve collectively as executive director during the museum’s search for a replacement.

07 Spreading Documenta 14’s programming across two countries caused cost overruns, an independent inquiry into its financial troubles found.

(via artnet News and The Art Newspaper)

What made the lastest Documenta most distinctive also proved to be its downfall. A report presented this week by auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers found that the price of operating the exhibition in Athens, Greece, took Documenta out of the black and into the red, due to added “personnel, transportation, space, and security costs,” according to artnet News, plunging it into financial trouble and eventually requiring an emergency loan to stave off bankruptcy. The quinquennial is a staple of Kassel, Germany, but curator Adam Szymczyk had taken the controversial and ambitious step this year to host the art event in Athens, as well. Although any changes to management structure and oversight as a result of the financial challenges have yet to be announced, the dates for the 2022 edition were announced this week, mollifying concerns that Documenta’s next iteration was in jeopardy.

08 Artist Marina Abramović is disputing claims that money raised partially through Kickstarter for her now-canceled arts center was mishandled.

(via Vulture)

The Marina Abramović Institute (MAI) raised $2.2 million for a performance space planned for the upstate New York town of Hudson, which she announced in 2013. The artist said she gave $1.1 million towards the institute, while some $661,400 (or $596,600 after fees) came from the platform Kickstarter, which allows members of the public to back causes and products. According to the MAI Kickstarter page, money raised on the platform would go to “the design process” of the building, slated to be by Rem Koolhaas. But a New York Post article that ran on November 11th asked where the money had gone and charged in the headline that following cancellation, the artist “hasn’t given money back.” A spokesperson said the donated money went towards the architect’s firm, as originally intended. The artist ultimately shelved her insitute due to ballooning costs and the difficulties inherent in the Koolhaas design. Today, the site is “empty and dilapidated and full of pigeons,” according to Vulture.

09  A judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by an artist whose work was removed from the courtyard of New York’s Trinity Church.

(via the New York Law Journal)

Artist Steve Tobin’s twisting red-rooted sculpture The Trinity Root (2005) served as a memorial to the September 11th attacks, standing in Lower Manhattan’s Trinity Church courtyard for a decade. In December 2015, the church moved the sculpture from its city location to a different property in Connecticut. This prompted Tobin to file suit in April in the Southern District of New York, alleging that the move, which damaged the work, violated the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) of 1990 (along with further claims). Among other things, the law prevents the “distortion, mutilation and modification” of artwork, even after the artist has given or sold a piece to someone else. But in a ruling filed Tuesday, Judge Lorna G. Schofield dismissed Tobin’s suit, ruling that merely moving an artwork doesn’t rise to the level of damaging alteration specified under VARA, and that the artist had failed to show evidence of gross negligence on the church’s part. Tobin also alleged that Trinity Church violated its promise to always display the piece in the courtyard, but Schofield actually found that Trinity Church was granted wide latitude by the contract to use the work as it saw fit in the agreement between the parties.

10  A Massachusetts appellate justice temporarily halted the controversial auction of works from the Berkshire Museum collection just days before the sale.

(via the Berkshire Eagle and WAMC)

In a ruling issued late last Friday, Justice Joseph A. Trainor put a 30-day halt to the contentious auction that had previously been given a green light by a lower court judge last Tuesday. The deaccessioning of some 40 artworks at Sotheby’s in New York by the Massachusetts museum has drawn wide criticism, since the institution planned to use the $60 million it expected to raise for renovations and other purposes that violated industry guidelines around selling art. After a case brought to halt the sale last week was tossed out by a lower court, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office filed an emergency appeal for an injunction to halt the auction, which Trainor granted. Following the judge’s ruling, the Berkshire Museum works were removed from the Sotheby’s showroom. The museum has requested an “expedited trial” in the appellate court so that it can plot its financial future with certainty.

Artsy Editors

Cover image courtesy of Christie’s.