I’ve been fortunate to see a lot of wonderful things through my job as editor of this magazine. But I would say the highlight of my career was being in the room at Christie’s on November 15 and watching Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi sell for $450 million after a 19-minute bidding war between two phone bidders standing right next to each other on the Christie’s elevated platform, unassumingly raising each other by $10 million bids at a time each second.
“The masterpiece by Leonardo, Christ the Savior, been in the collection of three kings of England, King Charles the First, King Charles the Second and King James the Second. What am I offered here? Let’s open this at $70, $70, $75 million,” the auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen rattled off to get the sale going. The increments started at $10 million, then lowered to $5 million and then, at one point, to $2 million, all accompanied by gasps from the packed room which included dealers Larry Gagosian and David Zwirner as well as collectors such as Eli Broad, Michael Ovitz, Martin Margulies and Stefan Edlis.
I travel to New York quite often but I live in Arizona. I didn’t know the faces in the room but luckily I quickly befriended an editor from Elle Décor magazine who was standing next to me in our little sectioned-off quarter of the room. We were the first two to arrive. The room was completely empty except for us. As the room gradually filled, he started telling me who everyone was, what they owned, what real estate belonged to them. It was the perfect narration for the evening events.
When the hammer finally was brought down at $400 million— bringing the actual sale, with the juice, to $450.3 million—the room erupted in cheers. Cheers that replaced the gasps that were heard when Alex Rotter, Christie’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary, jumped the bidding $30 million to arrive at $300 million and then another $30 million to arrive at the final price, which in the parlance of today, was the mic drop of all mic drops.
At the end of the night, while people have criticized the sale, the auction house, the painting and whatever else they might see as a target, what remains true is that for that moment, in that 19-minute span, art and the acquisition of art was at the center of the universe and managed to grab the headlines from whatever else was happening in the world at the moment. And, as a magazine devoted to art and art collecting, we find that to be a very good thing.
Let’s hope 2018 brings many more joyous moments of art and art collecting. It’s a wonderful experience and we feel everyone should be able to bring original art into their lives and reap the benefits it offers.