The work hammered for the online bidder at $3.4 million, or $4.1 million with fees—more than doubling Condo’s previous record, which was set in July 2016 when his Blue Diagonal Head (2016) sold for $1.98 million at the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation Gala Auction in St. Tropez. “I remember having, like, 15 phones confirmed,” Kremers recalled, meaning that 15 people were willing to part with—at the very least—the work’s reserve price of $1.2 million in order to own it.
“We had a lot of people who never got a bid in,” she continued. “To have 15—there are only a few lots every season that have that depth of bidding.”
This new record prompted a stream of consignments of top-flight work: Two Condos that sold during the London sales week in March 2018—the next major round of auctions—now occupy spots in his top 10, alongside Rainy Day Butler
(2012), which was the unexpected star of the usually modest contemporary curated sale at Sotheby’s New York that same month when it sold for $2.4 million, doubling the high estimate. (It may have been helped by another celebrity nod when it was highlighted
ahead of the sale by Sotheby’s specialist Caspar Jopling and his girlfriend, the pop star Ellie Goulding.)
Regardless, this new mark sparked a run on Condo at all houses, and convinced some collectors with Condos in the garage to offer them up.
“That opened the floodgates,” said Celis.
This year’s May sales in New York were the biggest test to date for the artist, since—for the first time ever—Phillips, Christie’s, and Sotheby’s all made the decision to sell their Condos in the evening sales, rather than the day sales. Sotheby’s went first, offering up Day of the Idol (2011)—purchased from Skarstedt during the same show as Compression IV—as its 25th lot of the evening, with a high estimate of $2 million. I watched in the sale room as Jose Mugrabi, the majordomo of perhaps the biggest art collecting family on earth, snapped it up for a $2.3 million hammer, or $2.77 million with fees.
The next day, at Phillips, New York-based art dealer David Benrimon loudly entered the bidding on Condo’s Red Head (2012), before being taken over by a phone bidder. Then, a man in the room—whom art market writer Josh Baer identified in his Baerfaxt newsletter as Stewart Rahr, a pharmaceutical billionaire and friend of President Donald Trump—purchased the work at a $1.5 million hammer, or $1.8 million with fees. The Condo sold early at the 5:00 p.m. Phillips evening sale on May 17th, and during the evening sale at Christie’s that same night at 7:00 p.m., just a few blocks away, Pylkkänen opened the bidding on Nude and Forms, the work that broke the record when it sold to the client on the phone for $6.16 million.
Christie’s had been expecting something of a smash, as the painting is a shining example of the large-scale works that Condo started making after his New Museum show—a bold, gigantic nude portrait that stunned collectors who came to see the work before the sale. It was a late addition to the roster, Celis said.
“I felt very strongly that if we were to have a Condo in the evening sale, it had to be an ‘A,’” she told me. “I held out until the end, and this came by and we said, ‘This is it.’ This felt like an ‘A.’”
Now the question is: How much higher can the Condo market go? Was Sayegh-Belchatowski right to say the Condo he bought for $1 million in 2016 would be worth five times that by the end of this year? One advisor told me that he got offers to sell multiple Condos immediately after the record-breaking lot at Christie’s, a sign that several owners of his work are aware of the current frenzy and would be willing to part with their paintings for the right price. But on the auction side, the specialists preached caution, saying that even if dealers with stockpiles of Condos in storage start consigning top-flight works, which could produce more record prices, it’s bound to level off. And even if prices are still going up, auction house specialists say they are telling consignors that estimates have to stay low. They are “managing expectations,” as Celis put it.
But Skarstedt said that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the market kept going higher and higher. When an artist like George Condo gains market momentum the speed of a bullet train, oftentimes, the best approach is to jump on and hitch a ride.
“There is tremendous demand for works of this quality from this artist,” Celis said. “Going forward, if something comes by my inbox, you can be sure I’m jumping on it.”