On Wednesday night, Jeff Koons’s 1986 sculpture Rabbit, a stainless steel work inspired by inflatable toys, sold at Christie’s for $91.1 million. It is now the most expensive work by a living artist ever sold at auction. David Hockney had set the record just this past November, when his 1972 painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures) sold at Christie’s for $90.2 million. What a reasonable market.
Rabbit was auctioned as part of the collection of the late publishing magnate S.I. Newhouse Jr., who passed away in October 2017 (disclosure: Newhouse was the co-owner of Advance Publications, the parent company of Condé Nast, which owns W). Christie’s put up six items from the collection for sale on Wednesday, and they fetched a combined $115 million. Rabbit beat Koons’s previous personal record, set when Jose Mugrabi paid $58.4 million for Balloon Dog (Orange), 1994–2000, at Christie’s in 2013. That price was the record for most expensive work by a living artist before Hockney broke it last year, and before Koons took back his crown.
And the Rabbit buyer? None other than Robert E. Mnuchin, art dealer and father to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, infamous for his and wife Louise Linton’s many ostentatious displays of wealth. According to The New York Times, Robert Mnuchin, who operates the Mnuchin Gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side (which shows a mix of modern and contemporary artists), refused to divulge on which client’s behalf he was bidding; according to Artsy, there was wide speculation in the room as soon as the gavel struck.
During the auction, Mnuchin was reportedly seated with the magazine publisher and collector Peter Brant and the art dealer Jeffrey Deitch. “I always thought [Rabbit] would be in the pantheon,” Deitch told The New York Times. “It was instantly embraced by artists and cultural critics, and it’s kept its resonance for all these years.”
It is obviously a big day for Koons, whose enormously famous (and expensive) works have been the subject of both high praise and derision over the course of his long career. This is also likely a big day for Kris Jenner, noted Koons fan, who famously “art-shamed” her daughter Khloé Kardashian, naive in the ways of the Balloon Dog. Perhaps Khloé will finally attend that art class.