A playful rabbit sculpture by Jeff Koons has become the most expensive work by a living artist ever to sell at auction.
The American artist’s rabbit which stands 3 foot tall sold at an auction for $91 million at Christie’s in New York City. Created by Jeff Koons in 1986 is in shiny stainless steel inspired by a child’s inflatable toy.
The new record comes just six months after David Hockney’s “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” set a new benchmark for a living artist, when it sold for $90.3 million in 2018, also at Christie’s in New York. The British painter’s artwork had itself overtaken Koons’ “Balloon Dog (Orange)” sculpture, the previous record-holder, which went for $58.4 million in 2013.
Christie’s initially estimated that Koons’ faceless “Rabbit” would sell for between $50 and $70 million. But after more than 10 minutes’ bidding, the winning offer came in at $80 million which — including auctioneer’s fees — resulted in a final sale price of $91,075,000.
Robert E. Mnuchin, an art dealer and the father of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, made the winning bid for Mr. Koons’s 1986 “Rabbit” from an aisle seat near the front of the salesroom. He was seated near Peter Brant, the collector and private museum-owner, and Jeffrey Deitch, the dealer.
Prior to the auction, Christie’s had described the sculpture as “one of the most iconic works of 20th-century art.” “It is crisp and cool in its appearance, yet taps into the visual language of childhood,” read a sale preview on the auction house’s website. “Its lack of facial features renders it inscrutable, yet its form evokes fun and frivolity.”
It was the ultimate prize among six works offered at Christie’s from the collection of the late media mogul S.I. Newhouse Jr, who died in 2017. It has not been publicly exhibited for more than 30 years. Estimated to raise at least $50 million, this sculpture, made in an edition of three and one artist’s proof, was the last example left in private hands, according to Christie’s.
“This was the piece that I have personally admired for 20 years, and always (had) dreamed of having for sale,” said Alex Rotter, chairman of the post-war and contemporary art department at Christie’s, during a press conference.
“You can think of Koons whatever you (like), but this is his best work,” he added.
More than 50 other artworks were sold at the evening sale, generating a total of almost $540 million. Other notable lots included Robert Rauschenberg “Buffalo II,” which set a new record for the artist’s work at just under $89 million, and one of Louise Bourgeois’ towering bronze “Spider” sculptures, which went for over $32 million.