For the first time in quite some time, the auction results from Christie’s and Sotheby’s Evening sales in Contemporary art have been roughly equal. This probably doesn’t signal that Christie’s long dominance in the category has ended, or even that Sotheby’s has significantly closed the gap. Because this round of sales in London has been characterized less by the spectacular eight-figure sales and more by establishing records and good sales for a number of important but middle-market artists.
Christie’s followed Sotheby’s with a top lot by Francis Bacon and records set for Peter Doig and Hurvin Anderson. Beyond that, the sleeper story of the evening was the depth of demand for two Roy Lichtenstein works that sold very, very well. Of course, a lot was made of the Tracey Emin’s My Bed selling for £2.5m but the lasting effect will not be terribly significant. However, new auction records for Dubuffet and Tapies would seem to have the potential to bring both artists to broader collector bases.
Less remarked upon may be the waning appetite for anything Warhol as Carol Vogel pointed out in the New York Times:
On Tuesday, one of the top prices was paid for a Warhol self-portrait from 1986, a bright red canvas with the artist’s gaunt face and fright wig in yellow. Dimitri Mavrommatis, the Greek financier, bought it for $10.8 million, less than its $11 million to $16 million estimate. Before the auction, dealers said it was being sold by Jose Mugrabi, the New York dealer, on behalf of an anonymous seller.
Christopher Wool has been fetching big prices recently and Christie’s had one of the American painter’s 1990 word paintings, with HAAH in black capital letters. Steven A. Cohen, the hedge fund manager, was said to be the seller. And the buyer, an unidentified telephone bidder, paid $10.6 million, against its low $9.2 million estimate.
The sale included several works by Lucio Fontana. Among the best of them was “Concetto Spaziale, Attese,’’ a 1965 white canvas with the artist’s familiar slashes. The Nahmad Gallery beat out three other bidders, paying $10.2 million, surpassing its high $10 million estimate.
Two years ago the Gagosian Gallery in New York held an exhibition of the German painter Albert Oehlen. While he is hardly a household name among American collectors he brought stronger-than-ever prices this week. One of his self-portraits from 1984 was locked up by a telephone bidder for $1.8 million, roughly three times its $670,000 high estimate. “He’s found his levels,’’ said Ivor Braka, a London dealer. “Oehlen is one of the finest manipulators of paint working today.’’
Asian buyers might have been an important factor as Katya Kazakina points out tracking Christie’s new star from China, Xin Li, who underbid the Bacon and repped clients who took down a Haring and the record-setting Dubuffet:
Li’s client, with paddle No. 887, won Keith Haring’s “Tree of Life” painting for 1.5 million pounds. Another client, whose paddle was 888, bought Dubuffet’s 1963 “Le Gai Savoir” for 4 million pounds. The price surpassed the high estimate of 2.8 million pounds and set an auction record for the French artist.
Perhaps most interesting was the dynamic between Peter Doig’s work and Hurvin Anderson’s. Both artists made new highs the previous night at Sotheby’s but Doig’s bidding was shallow. It would be hard not to conclude that buyers were keeping their powder dry for the Christie’s sale which featured the normally very cool customer, Larry Gagosian, attempting to bid against himself to defend his position on the Doig. Christie’s auctioneer, Jussi Pylkkanen took pleasure in ribbing the gallery owner. Judd Tully gives much of the detail:
The tempo accelerated to a frantic pace with Peter Doig’s striking and rather surreal, nighttime composition (lot 14) “Gasthof,” depicting two mustachioed men outfitted in elaborate 19th-century costumes from 2002-04, sold to Larry Gagosian for a record £9,938,500/$16,984,897 (est. £3-5 million).
One of the gentlemen is Doig, disguised in a theatrical costume and set against a fantastic evening landscape, resembling stoned runaways from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The background is based on a found German postcard from circa 1910. It shattered the 24-hour-old record set at Sotheby’s on Monday evening when “Country-rock (wing-mirror)” from 1999 sold for £8,482,500/$14,432,974.
“It’s one of three self-portraits that exist,” said Skarlet Smatana, the curator for the Athens-based George Economou Collection and the underbidder on the painting. “I can understand the value and the interest.”
A small group of works from Charles Saatchi, sold to benefit the Saatchi Gallery’s Foundation, also attracted intense market interest as (lot 15) Hurvin Anderson’s empty chaired but littered barbershop interior, “Afrosheen” from 2009, suitably large-scaled at 98 1/2 by 81 7/8 inches, rocketed to a record £1,314,500/$2,246,481, going to a telephone bidder. White Cube’s Jay Jopling was the underbidder (est. £300-400,000). It shot past the previous mark set at Sotheby’s on Monday evening when “Peter’s Sitters 3” from 2009, another barber shop themed composition, made £542,500/$923,064.
“We bid on the Hurvin Anderson,” said Guy Jennings, managing director of the London-based Fine Art Fund and a former top Impressionist and Modern specialist at Christie’s, “and thought we were brave [bidding] at £600,000.”
Bacon, and a Bed, Sell Well at Christie’s London Auction (NYTimes.com)
A Brawny Market Lifts Sales at Christie’s (BLOUIN ARTINFO)