$124.7m sale of sculpture a new record for a living artist

A visitor (above) striking a pose next to artist Jeff Koons' (left) Rabbit sculpture at a preview for Masterpieces from The Collection of S.I. Newhouse at Christie's New York earlier this month.
A visitor (above) striking a pose next to artist Jeff Koons' Rabbit sculpture at a preview for Masterpieces from The Collection of S.I. Newhouse at Christie's New York earlier this month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A visitor (above) striking a pose next to artist Jeff Koons' (left) Rabbit sculpture at a preview for Masterpieces from The Collection of S.I. Newhouse at Christie's New York earlier this month.
A visitor striking a pose next to artist Jeff Koons' (above) Rabbit sculpture at a preview for Masterpieces from The Collection of S.I. Newhouse at Christie's New York earlier this month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • A sculpture by American artist Jeff Koons sold on Wednesday for US$91.1 million (S$124.7 million) at an auction organised by Christie's in New York - a record price for a living artist.

Rabbit, a stainless steel casting of an inflatable rabbit, was the star of the auction house's spring sale and overtook the previous record set by British painter David Hockney's Portrait Of An Artist (Pool With Two Figures), which sold last November at Christie's for US$90.3 million.

It was a return to the top for Koons, 64, whose Balloon Dog (Orange) held, for five years, the record for highest price reached at an auction for a living artist after its 2013 sale for US$58.4 million.

The selling price of Rabbit was US$80 million, but once commissions and fees were added, the total rose to US$91.075 million.

In an unusual turn for an art auction at this price range, the buyer of Rabbit was actually in the room during the sale. According to The New York Times, the winning bid was made by Mr Robert Mnuchin, an art dealer and the father of United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Wednesday's milestone came two years after Christie's in New York set the record for the most expensive work of art known to have been sold, with the sale of Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi for US$450 million.

Created in 1986, Rabbit is among the best-known works by Koons, who built a reputation for challenging art world conventions.

He has exhibited his larger-than-life creations worldwide, including a 2008 showing in France's historic Chateau of Versailles which so jarred French traditionalists that a small group of them protested outside the event, demanding that his works be sent to Disneyland.

 

Rabbit, which is 1.04m tall, was auctioned from the collection of the late publishing mogul S.I. Newhouse.

Before his death in 2017, his empire included Conde Nast, which published magazines like Vogue, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

Mr Alexander Rotter, chairman of post-war and contemporary art at Christie's, told Agence France-Presse after the auction that Rabbit is "the most important piece by Jeff Koons, and I want to go even a step further and say the most important sculpture of the second half of the 20th century".

"It is the end of sculpture. It is the anti-David, as I call it," he said, referring to Michelangelo's masterpiece. "You can't go any further away from David still being figurative and a traditional sculpture."

The sale was a new triumph for Koons, who since his emergence in the 1980s has been the subject of endless conversation over the commercial and artistic value of his works.

The controversial artist has raised eyebrows throughout his career, particularly with paintings and sculptures depicting him having sex with Italian film star Cicciolina, to whom he was married between 1991 and 1994.

Arriving in New York in 1976, he has built up a studio that at its height in 2015 employed more than 100 artisans tasked with meeting his exacting standards.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2019, with the headline '$124.7m sale of sculpture a new record for a living artist'. Print Edition | Subscribe