Last night’s Post-War and Contemporary art sale at Christie’s in London was a tame affair. Or, perhaps, the word to describe the auction should be orderly. Given the surrounding uncertainty in other markets, and the limited number of compelling works on offer, the sale seemed strong where it should have been strong and weak in other places.
Scott Reyburn captured some of the mood:
“The market is still selective,” the Brussels-based dealer Paolo Vedovi said in an interview. “People know when things are good, and when they aren’t. They’re also sensitive to price.”
Andy Warhol’s 1965 “Colored Campbell’s Soup Can” painting failed against a low estimate of 2.25 million pounds. Deemed to have unattractive colors, the painting was owned by Steven S. Cohen, founder and chief executive officer of SAC Capital Advisors LP, and had previously been offered for sale privately, said persons with knowledge of the matter.
Carol Vogel got some context from Christie’s Contemporary chief:
“After New York and Basel, it was a challenge to keep clients focused,” said Brett Gorvy, Christie’s worldwide chairman of postwar and contemporary art. While Tuesday night’s sale seemed diminutive compared with the historic $495 million worth of art Christie’s sold in May, Mr. Gorvy said what surprised him about this auction was that he saw more activity from Asia than he had in New York. “There was a definite shift here, with more Asians and Europeans bidding, although in New York we saw more participation from Russia,” he said.
Vogel also did a little research on the price history behind an early Hirst medicine cabinet that had a nice showing for an artist whose market has been soft and struggling in recent years, especially the spot paintings which were meant to have a revival after the worldwide Gagosian show and announcement of a catalogue raisonnée (the one spot in Christie’s sale went below the estimate range):
“My Way,” from 1990-91, [is] one of the artist’s early medicine cabinets filled with old drug bottles. Two people were interested in the piece, which was estimated to sell for $1.1 million to $1.4 million and brought $1.3 million. “My Way” had been at auction twice before: in 1998 at a Sotheby’s sale in London, where it brought $262,900, and in 1999 at a Christie’s sale in New York, where it sold for $354,500.
Judd Tully zeroed in on the question of the evening: Was that a good price for the Basquiat?
“The one in New York made $48 million,” said seasoned Israeli dealer Mickey Tiroche, referring to the record-making “Dust Heads” that sold at Christie’s in May, “and this one was better. Was the one in New York a very bad buy or was this one a great buy?” These are the kinds of questions that make the auction world go round.
Does the fact that the painting was bought for $1.6m a little more than a decade ago change that judgment?
The evening was not devoid of fireworks but the competition seemed to gather around artists with room to run in their price structures like Ali Banisadr and Adriana Varejao (though Ged Quinn seems to have lost momentum.) Tully looks at what happened with Castellani:
Enrico Castellani’s large shaped canvas, “Superficie Bianca n. 34” — which dates from 1966 and that was shown at the Venice Biennale that same year — fetched a record £1,853,875 ($2,862,383) (Est. £400-600,000).
Former Phillips de Pury chairman Simon de Pury was one of the underbidders for the Castellani but was outgunned by two competing telephones. The previous mark for this artist was another work from the same series and year, “Superficie bianca n. 32,” which fetched €960,750 ($1,184,502) at Sotheby’s Milan in May 2010.
Basquiat Painting Draws Top Price at Christie’s (ArtsBeat/NYTimes)