Of the many happy campers at the record-demolishing (and economy-confounding) Sotheby's auction last night, Takashi Murakami may have been the happiest. Drawing stares from art-world veterans — one told us she'd never seen an artist show up to watch his own work on the block — the Japanese Pop maestro sat in the back of the room with a serene smile as My Lonesome Cowboy, his larger-than-life sculpture of a boy waving an ejaculate lasso, brought in $15.2 million — quintupling the artist's previous record at auction. (The signature piece, an edition of which is currently on view at the artist's Brooklyn Museum show, was sold by his former dealer Marianne Boesky.) "Oh, it's not surprising," Murakami said as he huddled with his Paris dealer, Emmanuel Perrotin, after the auction. Pretty gratifying, though? "Yeah, yeah, yeah," he said. "Basically."
Another contented observer of the auction, albeit from the astral plane, was Robert Rauschenberg. Two days after the artist's death at 82, his painting Overdrive did, as speculated, set a record, bringing in $14.6 million. (All Sotheby's figures include their commission, which is about 10 percent atop the winning bid.) The big winner of the night, however, was Francis Bacon, whose triptych set a new record for the artist when it went to a phone bidder for a staggering $86.3 million. ("Be brave," auctioneer Tobias Meyer had exhorted the buyers calling in, presumably from oversees. "Look at the Euros.")
There were some surprises at the sale, however. Most notably, a massive Rothko failed to draw a single bidder. (Sotheby's, which devoted a full eight pages to the work in the night's catalogue, had forecast it would earn more than $35 million.) "We've seen an inevitable moving towards bigger and bigger," Nick Lawrence, the Freight + Volume gallerist, said. "When will it get to where the center cannot hold?" But on a night that drew out many of the major players, it appeared that the center was holding just fine for the time being. "At first I wondered whether the famous irrational exuberance might be at work," said writer Anthony Haden-Guest, who is working on a book about the history of the thrumming market. "But no, it started real strong, though it molted a bit towards the end. I think it's certainly remarkable." —Andrew Goldstein