Women Shattered Artist Records at Christie’s $98 Million 21st Century Evening Sale

More than half of the auction's lots were created by women.

A woman in a green dress stands at a dais leading an auction with a large electronic display behind her.
Georgina Hilton sells Basquiat’s ‘El Gran Espectaculo.’ Courtesy Christie's

It was no accident that women dominated Christie’s 21st Century Evening Sale yesterday (May 15), which brought in more than $98 million.

“Christie’s is thrilled to have achieved a fantastic result in the first-ever evening sale that was majority female,” said Isabella Lauria, head of the sale, in a statement that implied that the auction house intentionally selected lots that presented “the full richness and diversity of Contemporary Art.”

Women created more than half of the 26 lots in the evening auction, which resulted in nine new artist records. Five were set by women, including narrative painter Danielle McKinney and sculptor/painter Rebecca Ackroyd, whose auction debuts fetched $201,000 and $56,000 respectively.

A painting of a woman sprawled on a bed in a white dress and heels with a black and white cat near her head.
Danielle McKinney’s ‘We Need to Talk.’ Courtesy Christie's

A bronze work by Simone Leigh, the first black woman to be awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, sold for $2.7 million, while works by photographer Diane Arbus sold for $1 million and and Robin F. Williams pieces brought in $428,000.

A bronze statue in black of a woman with no arms wearing a gown with a full skirl covered in spikes.
Simone Leigh’s ‘Stick.’ Courtesy Christie's

New artist records were additionally set by Vojtech Kovarik, El Anatsui, Peter Saul and William Eggleston works.

A Basquiat work topped the evening

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile) sold for $67 million after five minutes of spirited bidding, making it the evening’s top lot and Basquiat’s fourth highest selling painting to ever go to auction. The artist’s auction record remains $110.5 million, set in 2017 with the sale of his 1982 work Untitled.

A contemporary painting done mainly in yellow, peach, black white and teal that includes figures and words.
Basquiat’s ‘El Gran Espectaculo.’ Courtesy Christie's

Created in 1983, El Gran Espectaculo has been featured at retrospectives in New York’s Whitney Museum and Brooklyn Museum. Larry Gagosian, owner of Gagosian Gallery, was reportedly in the bidding for the Basquiat but did not end up purchasing the work.

The second-highest sale of the night was Cecily Brown’s Untitled (The Beautiful and Damned), a 2013 painting that sold for more than $6.7 million. Meanwhile, Yayoi Kusama‘s 1993 Pumpkin sold for $4.8 million, making it the third-highest lot in the auction.

A painting of a yellow-orange pumpkin covered in regularly spaced black polka dots.
Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Pumpkin.” Courtesy Christie's

The 21st Century Evening Sale brings Christie’s running 20th and 21st Century marquee week total to $725 million—a figure that includes more than $500 million from the S.I. Newhouse sale and 20th Century Evening Sale on May 11 plus $119 million brought in during day sales on May 12 and May 13.

The marquee week has attracted bidders from more than 19 countries and 3.4 million views on the auction house’s various online platforms, according to figures released by the auction house.

Christie’s 20th and 21st Century marquee week sales continue with A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection Part I on May 17. Women Shattered Artist Records at Christie’s $98 Million 21st Century Evening Sale