$745m - The most valuable auction in history

Barnett Newman's Black Fire I has headlined Christie's record breaking Post War and Contemporary Evening Sale in New York.

The piece achieved $84.1m on May 12, close to double the previous record of $43.8m set at Sotheby's New York for his Onement VI (1953) last year.

Barnett Newman Black
Barnett Newman's Black Fire I set a new artist record at Christie's

Newman (1905-1970) was a major abstract expressionist whose work is characterised by flat colour fields sectioned by "zips" - thin lines that define the boundaries of the painting and provide structure.

The painting was executed in 1961, shortly after the death of his brother George, and is one of a series of pieces in black and white that Newman worked on throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s.

It has been exhibited widely and formed the centre point of two Newman retrospectives (one in 1972 and the other in 2003), indicating its importance in his body of work and explaining its new status as his most valuable painting.  

The auction realised total sales of $744.9m, the highest in auction history and an increase of 7.7% on the previous record of $691.6m set at Christie's last year.

A Francis Bacon triptych of John Edwards made $80.8m and an untitled work by Mark Rothko achieved $66.2m, while new records were set for artists as diverse as Alexander Calder and Joseph Cornell.  

Brett Gorvy, Christie's chairman and international head of post-war and contemporary art, commented: "Great masterpieces inspire great collectors from every generation.

"The sales so far this week have demonstrated the growing appetite for contemporary art across the global marketplace�Ǫ

"From the volume of bidders in the sales themselves to the significant number of new artist records set, we are seeing unprecedented momentum in the market as the desire to connect with great art continues to grow."

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