Sotheby’s found they could run a substantial Contemporary art sale without a plethora of guarantees and still pull down £123.5m in sales. And though these sales were light on volume by the biggest names—say, Warhol—they were strong in select artists. The cover lot Bacon diptych was dispensed handily with a single bid but the over-sized Richter abstract was sold to an eager American who bid aggressively until a new record was set.
The New York Times’s Scott Reyburn gets a little background color on the demand for a work that is mostly beyond domestic scale:
“These days there are plenty of collectors who can take a painting that big,” said Christophe Van de Weghe, the New York dealer. “There are new private museums opening up all over the world.”
For those who worry that the art market is overheated should pay attention to how the sales betrayed an extreme level of pickiness. Here’s Judd Tully:
Cy Twombly’s “Rome” from 1969, the gorgeous and looping chalkboard abstraction in oil and wax crayon on paper sold to a telephone bidder for £3,845,000/$5,858,626 (est. £2-3 million).
Another Twombly, this one in pencil, wax crayon and oil on canvas and bearing a torrid title, “Crimes of Passion I” and the rock’n’roll steady provenance of Eric Clapton and dated from 1960, sold to another telephone bidder for £4,069,000/$6,199,935.
Though a big number, the Clapton Twombly last sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2012 for $5,794,500.
Yves Klein’s monochromatic beauty, “Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 92) from 1959, one of the third-party guaranteed entries, made £6,085,000/$9,271,714 (est. £3.6-4.6 million).
It last sold at Sotheby’s London in February 2006 for £960,000.
Another Klein, the nude body, pigment smeared image “Untitled Anthropometrie”, executed during a live performance in Paris in 1960, and comprised of dry pigment in synthetic resin on paper, laid down on canvas, went to another anonymous telephone bidder for £4,181,000/$6,370,590 (est. £3-4 million).
And Colin Gleadell shows that works didn’t have to be of-the-moment to do good business:
School of London paintings by Freud, Kossoff, and Auerbach all performed well, if not spectacularly, and a circular aluminum plaque, Epiphany, conceived in 1964 and realized in 1989 by British Pop artist Richard Hamilton, made a record £557,000 ($848,701) against a £150,000–200,000 estimate. That’s a nice sum to contemplate for other owners from this edition of 12.
Most bidding for an American painting came for James Rosenquist’s small painting Beach Call (1979), from a long term Hoglund collection in Sweden. With quite a tame £100,000–150,000 estimate, dealers’ hands went up all over the place—Thaddaeus Ropac, Christophe van de Weghe, Acquavella Galleries, Neal Meltzer, and Amy Capellazzo, who eventually won it for £641,000 ($976,692).
Blue monochromes by Yves Klein continue to attract demand. The largest, made in 1959 and bought in 2006 for £960,000, made a handsome markup selling to Neal Meltzer for £6.1 million ($9,271,714). A smaller example from 1960 was snapped up below estimate for £2.1 million by the Dominique Lévy Gallery.
Works by Sigmar Polke sold to Mugrabi and Turkish collectors Halit and Kemal Cıngıllıoğlu, while a big 2005 painting in homage to Paul Celan by Anselm Kiefer and a 2007 C-print by Andreas Gursky both went to a Chinese-speaking client on the telephone.
Finally, it’s disappointing to see nonsensical quotes summing up an important sale. Both of these quotes in Bloomberg say the equivalent of “the sky is blue.” In first case, the quote is dressed up with the idea that auctions are somehow supported by an outside force. In this particular sale, the usual mechanisms for supporting the sale were actually less in evidence. So the “too big to fail” comment is particularly unsuited.
“These auctions are too big to fail,” said Sergey Skaterschikov, founder of Skate’s Art Market Research in New York. The auction houses “have to achieve a sell-through rate of over 80 percent to sustain the perception of a strong art market. They work very hard to make sure that the bidders are lined up for the key pieces.”
“The market is big,” said Tania Buckrell Pos, managing director of Arts & Management International, a London-based firm that advises collectors, investors and museums. “There are a lot of collectors wanting the same names.”
Richter Leads Sotheby’s London Contemporary Art Sales (New York Times)
Sotheby’s Sells $188.5 Million in ‘Too Big to Fail’ Art Auction (Bloomberg Business)