It’s hard to say what the big news was at Christie’s last night. Surely the 50+% rise in sales volume from the previous year is a headline. And that comes without the single owner sale earlier in the week which adds handsomely to the week’s total sales volume.
A lot is being made of the price for David Martinez’s Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer Talking selling for half the triptych Christie’s sold just in November. The $70m price would be a record for a single canvas but that seems like an odd distinction to make much of.
Judging from the reports coming out of London, the interesting facts lie in the sellers and the buyers. On the selling side, Carol Vogel revealed that the Koons Cracked Egg was consigned by Damien Hirst, himself a significant player in the run-up of Bacon prices over the last decade.
Monumental sculptures by Mr. Koons are always good attention-grabbers, and “Cracked Egg (Magenta),” a nearly six-foot-tall sculpture executed from 1994 to 2006, one of five versions, was up for sale, bringing £14 million, the equivalent of $23.3 million, against an estimate of $17 million to $25 million. More surprising than the price, however, was the seller — Mr. Koons’s friend, colleague and fan Damien Hirst. While it may not have topped its estimate, it was a high price compared to the $3.5 million that the Los Angeles philanthropist and financier Eli Broad is said to have paid for a “Cracked Egg (Blue)” from the Gagosian Gallery in 2006.
Vogel also put her finger on another important theme among sellers. There were several works on the block last night after short holding periods with their buyers. Whether flipped or sold for distress, Bridget Riley’s Chant 2 and a Pierre Soulages work found it hard to make any advance in such a short period. So this sort of art has been an ok store of value but not a great short-term investment. Here’s Vogel on a third example of that:
Another painting by Bacon, “Study for a Portrait” (1978), was also on the auction block Thursday night. It had last been up at auction at Sotheby’s in May 2012, when Donald L. Bryant, the New York collector, purchased it for $4.2 million. Now Mr. Bryant was the seller, hoping to get $3.8 million to $4.9 million. A telephone bidder paid $4.4 million.
Is there anything we can conclude from that? Probably not. But it does suggest the market itself is not soaring. In other words, buyers are looking for new works by established artists or new artists to value but they’re not looking merely re-trading the same items at ever higher valuations which is what the supposed excess liquidity scenario would have us see.
On the whole, that’s good for the art market. The other good trend is the ever-expanding roster of global buyers. And now they’re not just bidding on trophy artists like Gerhard Richter (though they’re doing that too) or repatriating favorite sons like Zao Wou-ki (though Sotheby’s saw some day sale fireworks there too.
Here Judd Tully spotted a Turkish buyer for a Twombly and a Chinese bidder for the Domenico Gnoli that unexpectedly went through the roof:
Cy Twombly’s decidedly more esoteric “Untitled (Rome)” from 1960, brashly executed in oil based house paint, lead pencil and wax crayon and energized by a dense field of his poetic scrawls, sold to Turkish collector Kemal Has Cingillioglu for £2,658,500 ($4,413,110; est. £1.2-1.8/$2-2.9 million).
More remarkable was the fevered bidding for Domenico Gnoli’s Pop Art-like figurative painting “Black hair” from 1969, in acrylic and sand on canvas, which ultimately sold to London dealer Guya Bertoni, who apparently beat out a determined Chinese telephone bidder. Bertoni acknowledged that she had bought the painting on behalf of a client as she raced out of the salesroom.
And, of course, there’s the latest list of new names playing with market fire:
For the third evening in a row, a large canvas by young New York artist Lucien Smith tested his rollicking market as “Secret Lives of Men” from 2012, another from his rain painting series executed with a paint-filled fire extinguisher, brought £158,500 ($263,110; est. £30-40,000/$50-65,000.)
The slightly older market darling Oscar Murillo was also featured early on with “Untitled (Burrito),” from 2011, a large canvas in oil, oil stick, and dirt dominated by the word Burrito in yellow. It sold to a telephone bidder for £194,500 ($322,870; est. £20-30,000/$33-49,000).
British sculptor Rebecca Warren also made a big impression with “Untitled (Twins)” from 2004, a pair of clay female figures standing on a plinth. It sold to an Asian telephone bidder for £266,500 ($442,390; est. £80-120,000/$140-200,000).
Big Night at Christie’s Caps London Contemporary Week ( Blouin Artinfo)