US$90m Hockney smashes record for a living artist

Market shifting towards artists who have been out of the mainstream, driven by stratospheric prices for more established names

New York

A CELEBRATED and enigmatic painting of two men and a turquoise pool by David Hockney sold at Christie's on Thursday night for US$90.3 million with fees, shattering the auction record for a living artist and cementing a major broadening of tastes at the turbocharged top end of the market.

The price for the 1972 painting, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), easily surpassed the previous high of US$58.4 million, held by Jeff Koons for one of his Balloon Dog sculptures.

The night before, a Sotheby's auction produced new highs for three African-American artists and a 42-year-old female painter. Together the sales signalled a new inclusivity in the art world, driven by a generational shift towards artists who have been out of the mainstream, and driven by stratospheric prices for more established names. That has forced collectors to expand their search for emerging names who might be undervalued.

The new demand for living artists, and a dearth of quality material, have helped increase exposure for nonwhite and female artists, with several of their works notching multimillion-dollar sales.

The Hockney painting is a different kind of trophy, by an openly gay artist about the emotional life of gay men. While the subject is hardly verboten in art, it is still rare to see same-sex themes in an artwork at this price point.

"Diversity is exactly what you're seeing in the auction rooms - museums have done a huge job in positioning these artists," said Brett Gorvy, a prominent dealer who was formerly head of contemporary art at Christie's.

"There's definitely an investment mentality - the market is always looking for new areas." The painting's buyer and seller were not publicly revealed, but the seller was widely reported to be Joe Lewis, a market-savvy British billionaire based in the Bahamas.

He audaciously offered his Hockney without reserve, meaning he set no minimum price, a sign of how confident he was that it would sell for its estimate of US$80 million or more. NYTIMES

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