Jeff Koons's 1986 sculpture of a 41-inch tall, stainless steel rabbit sold for $91,075,000 on Wednesday night at Christie's, setting a new auction record for a living artist.
Koons isn't new to this record, which he previously set when his "Balloon Dog (Orange)" went for $58.4 million in 2013 (David Hockney's "Portrait of an Artist [Pool with Two Figures]" sold for $90.3 million last November and knocked him out).
The Wall Street Journal reports that bidding started at $40 million, "but a quartet of bidders chased after it, with dealer Bob Mnuchin winning it for $80 million." Add on those pesky Christie’s fees and that's a cool $91 million. The WSJ notes that "Mr. Mnuchin, whose son is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, sat in a trench coat in the middle of the auction salesroom and at one point bid with two fingers aloft like rabbit ears. He was cradling a phone with his other hand and bid for a client."
The seller was the family of the late Conde Nast publisher S.I. Newhouse. The piece was expected to go for $50 to $70 million.
The art world has questioned Koons's work for years. Upon the 2014 Koons retrospective at the Whitney Museum, Jed Perl wrote in the New York Review of Books, "Koons is a recycler and regurgitator of the obvious, which he proceeds to aggrandize in the most obvious way imaginable, by producing oversized versions of cheap stuff in extremely expensive materials." He reduced his work to: "overblown souvenirs... for the superrich."
"Critics pointed out that the 'Rabbit' sculpture elegantly and enigmatically alludes to earlier pieces by such artists as Constantin Brancusi, Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol," the NY Times explained yesterday, adding a quote from art dealer Jeffrey Deitch: "I always thought it would be in the pantheon. It was instantly embraced by artists and cultural critics, and it’s kept its resonance for all these years."
The day before, another art world auction record was shattered: One of Claude Monet's "Haystacks" paintings, Meules, was sold for $110.7 million at Sotheby's, setting a new record for Impressionist art.
The painting is one of 25 in a series and only one of eight in private collections. Sotheby's rhapsodized, "The unique perspective, dynamic composition, and vibrant paint palette sets Meules apart, even in a series as celebrated as Haystacks. Strong diagonal lines (one from the rightward-facing perspective, the other from slanted beams of sunlight) meet at the center of the work, grounding the layers of elaborate brushstrokes and guiding the viewer's gaze across the canvas. The result is a captivating landscape that emanates a sense of profound harmony and well-being."
It was originally bought for $2.5 million in 1986; a lawyer for the seller told Art News, "It’s a true masterpiece, and in the Impressionist market, Monet talks."