A metallic cast sculpture by controversial artist Jeff Koons sold for $91.1 million (£71 million) on Wednesday 15th May, becoming the most expensive artwork by a living artist ever sold at auction. Koons’ piece went for more than $20 million (£16 million) over its estimate, during Christie’s Post War and Contemporary Art evening sale in New York.
In November last year, David Hockney superseded Koons’ previous record, which was held by his Balloon Dog sculpture that sold for $58 million (£46 million) in 2013. Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold for just shy of $90 million (including fees). Smashing Hockney’s record price, ‘Rabbit’ has sold for $91,075,000 (including buyer’s premium), restoring the record-breaking title back to Koons.
As one of Koons’ most well-known pieces, the ‘Rabbit’ has been described as “cute, sinister, cartoonish, imposing, vacuous, sexy, chilling, dazzling and iconic.”
The sculpture was created in 1986 and is cast in the shape of a large inflatable balloon bunny. Its faultlessly reflective surface and eerily expressionless face stirred up the contemporary art world and was hailed as an icon of excess in the 80s.
“It seemed to me instantly, by involuntary reflex—and still does by long reflection—that this bunny is one of those very rare hits at the exact center of the target,” recalled Kirk Varnedoe, now chief curator of MoMA, of his first time experiencing ‘Rabbit’.
Christie’s sold the 41 inch high sculpture alongside 11 other works for The Collection of S.I. Newhouse. “On behalf of the family and myself I want to express our gratitude for the great work Christie’s has done,” praised Tobias Meyer, adviser to the Newhouse family, after the auction. “We are delighted with the results.”
Yet, not everyone has responded so enthusiastically to the astonishing sum made by Koons’ artwork.
Art dealer Robert Mnuchin, who made the winning bid on behalf of Steve Cohen, is the father of the US treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin. Some critics felt uneasy about this political relationship, with art critic Deborah Solomon finding it “problematic.”
Robert Frank, CNBC wealth reporter, also appeared shocked by the staggeringly high price. He tweeted “still trying to get my head – and arms – around this,” while journalist Carolina Miranda denounced the sale as “really a bunch of billionaires swapping money and Jeff Koons“.
Despite the social media storm of controversy, the sale of ‘Rabbit’ suggests that the art market is continuing to grow. Last week, a painting by Monet sold at Sotheby’s for $85 million (£66 million), likewise breaking the record for an Impressionist artwork sold at auction.