Last night Christie’s hammered an impressive $31.7 million across 33 contemporary works in a charity auction organized by Leonardo DiCaprio. Thirteen new artist records were set, with many works doubling their pre-sale high estimates. The night had a total high estimate of just $18 million and most of the proceeds from the auction, titled the 11th Hour, will go to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, a conservation charity.
“The fact is this is the 11th hour,” Mr. DiCaprio said from the rostrum in a speech about the environment before the sale. “That’s why this is called the 11th Hour auction.”
Mr. DiCaprio, who visited artists to solicit donations for months before the sale and personally called collectors beforehand, encouraged the room of dealers and celebrities to “bid as if the fate of the planet depends on us.” Specialist Loic Gouzer, who helped organize the sale, was similarly severe, choosing to motivate the audience with a modified quote from the movie Zero Dark Thirty, about the importance of killing Osama Bin Laden.
But if the pre-sale was melodrama, the auction itself was comedy. The English-accented auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen regularly ribbed Mr. DiCaprio, who sat in the front row. He pretended to mistake the actor’s waving to friends as bids and asked if it was “okay with” him when bids went high. Twice after a winning bid emerged from a heated battle, Mr. Pylkkänen turned away from the winner and said to the room, “Oh, but let’s not let him have it!” (This joke went over particularly well with Tobey Maguire.)
Since the full price of artworks donated to charity are not tax deductible for the artist, new records are a major incentive for their participation. Collectors are also a little more inclined to open their wallets for a good cause and are especially willing to do so for Leonardo DiCaprio. Even taking those factors into account, the number of artist records for the evening was impressive. The night saw new highs at auction for Carol Bove, Joe Bradley, Dan Colen, Mark Grotjahn, Sergej Jensen, Bharti Kher, Robert Longo, Adam McEwen, Raymond Pettibon, Elizabeth Peyton, Rob Pruitt, Sterling Ruby and Mark Ryden.
Several of the works featured tigers, since Mr. DiCaprio’s first environmental efforts involved doubling the population of the endangered animal in a region of Nepal. Mr. DiCaprio also has a personal affinity for tigers. In the auction preview last week Mr. Gouzer called the animal the actor’s “mascot.”
Zeng Fanzhi contributed a tiger oil on canvas, and Takashi Murakami offered a work that depicted an elephant, a lion and a tiger mid-roar. Mr. DiCaprio was said to have had input on that work during its creation, and he eventually bought it for $735,000.
“Iunno,” said a post-auction Mark Ruffalo, who has worked with Mr. DiCaprio on other environmental projects, of why his fellow actor likes tigers specifically. “He just loves the tigers. And he’s made it a point to save them.”
An abstract Mark Grotjahn work, Untitled (Standard Lotus No II, Bird of Paradise, Tiger Mouth Face 4401), saw bidding jump from $2 million to $3 million to $4 million in a blink. One of the artist’s dealers, Larry Gagosian, eventually won the lot for $6.5 million (all prices include Christie’s specially lowered five-percent buyer’s premium), after a prolonged battled with Vladimir Doronin, a Russian billionaire who recently broke up with Naomi Campbell.
Another Page Sixer also had his time in the spotlight.The orange pharmaceutical billionaire Stewart Rahr, who chomped on an unlit cigar throughout the bidding, went home with the Longo tiger drawing for $1.6 million, the Pruitt work for $315,000 and the Peyton for $1.1 million, scooping up that last lot by announcing his participation to the room.
“New bidder!” he shouted from his seat several rows back. “One. Million dollars.”
Last week during a major auction at Sotheby’s, where he bought a Picasso, he could be seen in a skybox with LL Cool J (the two are friends). After he left the room Mr. Rahr—who likes to be called “Stewie Rah Rah” and has a lifetime ban from Nobu after calling a waitress there the c-word—was mobbed by auctions reporters.
“I’m really all about saving the environment now, help the tigers and all that,” he told one. “It’s really important.”
“Excuse me, sir,” said Gavin Brown, who’d chased Mr. Rahr to the stairs. “I represent the artist who did the panda piece, and Elizabeth Peyton.” He handed him a business card. “Please come and see me.”
“Okay, fine,” Mr. Rahr said. Though he probably won’t anytime soon. “After this I’m headed to Cannes with the boys,” he said, meaning Mr. Maguire and Mr. DiCaprio (the three are friends).
Bradley Cooper emerged from the auction speaking buoyant French with Salma Hayek and her husband, François-Henri Pinault, whose family owns Christie’s. Mr. DiCaprio also seemed pleased, and slapped an arm around a friend. “That Vlad and Larry thing was crazy, dude!” he declared.
After everyone left, Christie’s flacks told journalists that they could probably go ahead and say it was the highest-grossing charity auction ever. It might have been, though in the press release they went with a different superlative: “most important.”
Update, 9 a.m.: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this post stated that the auction total was $31.7 million. In fact that was the total hammered, before the five-percent buyer’s premium was added.
Update, 11 a.m.: An earlier version misstated the region of the world in which Mr. DiCaprio has doubled the tiger population.
News of the auction was first reported here last month.