Christie’s closed out the Frieze week of sales with an emblematic performance that revealed a substantial shift in the Contemporary art market. This year’s Frieze sales were much larger than in past years in terms of dollar volume but the works that sold reflected a rotation out of Contemporary which has been quietly retreating in volume. In London last week, Italian art took up much of the slack. Though calling postwar Italian art something other than Contemporary art—especially with the strong sales presence of Lucio Fontana’s work—is difficult to maintain.
Like Sotheby’s, Christie’s had a stronger Italian sale than Contemporary sale. Like Sotheby’s the totals were £43.166m for Italian and £35.56m for Contemporary art. The Contemporary side seems to be afflicted with a lack exciting works from major names. Christie’s did well but not spectacularly with a Peter Doig painting but no one was jumping out of their seats for it.
As Colin Gleadell reveals in his coverage, Christie’s Contemporary sales were heavily weighted toward China (or at least their business getter with the most prominent ties to China.) Here’s what Gleadell said:
Peter Doig’s Canadian wooded landscape, Cabin Essence (1993-4), was the top price of the sale by a long way. It had been bought in 1994 for around £10,000 by the American collector who was selling, but his market has skyrocketed to such a degree that it sold for £9.6 million ($14.8 million). Since the estimate had been around £9 million without premium, the result was slightly disappointing. After three very slow bids Christie’s deputy chairman of Asia, Xin Li, won the phone bid on behalf of a Chinese client.
Also selling to China among the top lots was Martin Kippenberger’s multi-part painting, A celebrity in film, radio, television and police call boxes (1981), that sold within estimate for £2.4 million. Kippenberger seems to have become a favorite in China. Last year, Chinese restaurant mogul Zhang Lan snapped up Untitled (1988) for $18.6 million at Christie’s “If I live I’ll see you Tuesday,” sale in New York.
Most of the action was in ” a mix of older and younger generation artists” like Gerald Laing or Albert Oehlen, on the one hand, and Joe Bradley, Nicole Eisenman, Toby Ziegler and Lynette Yiadom-Baokye, on the other hand. Of course, there was also a strong showing by the man-of-the-moment, Jonas Wood. Gleadell again:
A very large village landscape stacked with wooden house fronts and rooftops, Untitled (MV Landscape) by Jonas Wood, was estimated at £250,000 but sold for £542,500—again to Xin Li.
Judd Tully added to the impression of interest diverting to the emerging end of the artist specturm when he reported on the sale of Christopher Wool’s below estimate sale mostly because of the glut of Wools on the market in London and the competition from the Lambert Collection which seemed to soak up all of the available interest. But even sales that seem out-of-the-money can make solid returns if they were bought well:
After a rough night at Sotheby’s with a buy-in on Thursday, Christopher Wool’s prospects brightened with “Untitled” from 1986, a densely patterned, 72 1/8–by-48-inch all-over abstract composition in alkyd on aluminum, which squeaked by at a below-estimate £422,500/$653,608 (est. £500–700,000). It last sold at auction at Christie’s New York in November 1998 for $18,400 (yes, eighteen thousand four hundred dollars).
For his part, Tully offered a little skepticism on the current vogue for Italian painters:
It’s unclear whether this Italian art boom is simply a case of a rather neglected Post-War slice of the market coming to maturity or a temporarily manic ‘Tulip’ speculative boom that is unlikely to last. As if on automatic pilot mode, auctioneer and Christie’s Global President Jussi Pylkkanen announced with great hubris at the outset of any number of the Italian lots, “I have ten telephone bidders.” He wasn’t kidding.
“Burri is the name now, thanks to the Guggenheim,” said Luigi Mazzoleni, of the eponymous Mayfair gallery that is currently staging a Burri exhibition. “There’s still a lot of margin to grow for Burri and Post-War Italian Art.”
Katya Kazakina was less circumspect:
“Italy is back,” said Giovanna Bertazzoni, Christie’s deputy chairman and senior international director of Impressionist and modern art. “The economy is on track. People are more confident. There’s a stable government. And that has translated into an amazing Italian presence in London during Frieze week.”
The sale included 12 paintings by Fontana, Italy’s best-selling artist at auction, of which 11 found buyers, generating 13.2 million pounds, almost a third of the auction’s tally. Five works by the artist were among the evening’s top 10 lots.
Of Fontana’s pieces, the sale was led by a white 1967 canvas with six vertical slashes. It fetched 2.7 million pounds, surpassing the high estimate of 1.5 million pounds.
Rapid-fire bidding between Italian art dealer Nicolo Cardi and Los Angeles-based entrepreneur Stefan Simchowitz, who were sitting side by side, pushed the price for Michelangelo Pistoletto’s 1971 reflective painting of a naked woman drinking tea to 2.2 million pounds, 1 million pounds above its high estimate.
Morandi’s 1939 still life, depicting a group of vessels — the artist’s signature subject — fetched 2.5 million pounds, an auction record for the modernist painter.
“This is a real market,” said Cardi, whose gallery is based in London and Milan. “I bid on 20 lots. I got three.”
Christie’s Contemporary Evening Sale London (artnet News)
A Huge Night for Italian Art at Christie’s (BLOUIN ARTINFO)
Doig, Fontana, Burri Lead Christie’s $121.5 Million Frieze Sales (Bloomberg Business)