Christie’s pulled off a very well managed sale yesterday showing that a down market need not be a spooked one. Even though the £58m total was substantially lower than Sotheby’s the previous night, the impression of an orderly, mid-price focused market did much to sustain confidence, especially as global markets dropped all during the sale.
The Wall Street Journal captured the mood:
Christie’s, which historically shines in contemporary sales, once again managed to pull off a brisk auction dominated by pieces in the $500,000 to $5 million range—a middle-market price point that feels solid to wary bidders. The major soft spot was its supposed masterwork, an Yves Klein painting that stalled at $10.9 million and went unsold. Christie’s contemporary specialist Francis Outred said the house prepared “with a cautious frame of mind” by focusing on realistic estimates and walking away from a few top lots.
Colin Gleadell seconded the thought:
“This sale was more about the strength of the middle market,” said Lock Kresler, a director of the Dominique Lévy gallery in London, who used to work at Christie’s.
Christie’s sale strength was based upon elements of several strong collections. For example, Gleadell points to the Hockney umbrella that out performed:
The surprise, though not to Christie’s Francis Outred, was the performance of David Hockney’s paintings from the Miles and Shirley Fiterman collection. A simmering Beach Umbrella, from 1971, sold to a staffer from the Gagosian Gallery, who was competing against New York dealer Nicholas Maclean, for £3.1 million ($4.5 million), double the estimate.
“Hockney is totally underrated in the market place,” Outred said after the sale. “This price will look cheap before too long.”
However, not everyone viewed the pieces as selective. The Journal also spoke to one collector who simply sat this one out:
London collector Tiqui Atencio, typically a fixture of these sales, decided to skip them altogether this year because “the quality wasn’t in the catalogs this time,” she said.
“Everyone is jittery about oil prices, ISIS and China,” she added. “Collectors still have money, but they’re sitting on the sidelines, not consigning good things and waiting to see what happens.”
Those fears haven’t dampened the interest in Lucio Fontana’s work. Although there were no stand out examples from the artist’s body of work, he did carry a fair amount of water, as Judd Tully points out:
If you haven’t already guessed, Fontana is the European Post-War market equivalent of Warhol at auction, with multiple works appearing in every evening venue.
Speaking of Warhol, only one was offered, the 40-by-40 inch “Portrait of Man Ray” from 1974, based on a Polaroid SX-70 photograph of the great artist in a brimmed cap, lips locked on a cigar. It sold to Nick Maclean of the London/New York gallery Eykyn Maclean for £362,500/$525,988 (est. £200-300,000).
“I bought it on behalf of a collector who is a big Man Ray fan and a big Warhol fan,” said Maclean as he exited the packed salesroom. “So it’s the perfect piece for him.”
Apart from that particular interest, the Warhol market continues to be in abeyance. That pull back might not be a bad thing. The Contemporary art market has relied too long and too much on Warhol. With other artists pulling the weight and sales continuing to hum in the high six, low seven-figure range, the market can expand its participation even as it reduces its value turnover.
Although there were a number of sellers who did well across the board, the middle market is not a guarantor of great returns. This is an important point that Colin Gleadell makes:
A number of works were coming back to auction after having come to the block in the last five to eight years, and showed no appreciation; these included works by Gilbert & George, Damien Hirst, Neo Rauch,Enrico Castellani, and Salvatore Scarpitta.
Christie’s $84 Million Contemporary Art Auction (artnet News)