As you can see from Brett Gorvy’s mid-sale Instagram picture from the phone bank podium, there were empty seats up front at Christie’s marquee London sale of Contemporary art. Whether this indicates fatigue among buyers after a record-breaking year of sales or simply indicates the ease of access to the online feed and telephone bidding depends upon your perspective.
Buyers were clearly excited by some of the lots and collections on offer, but the lack of headline works may have reduced the appeal of squeezing into Christie’s King St. salerooms.
Katya Kazakina had this take on the top lots:
At Christie’s, the top two lots were paintings by Francis Bacon. A 1967 canvas, “Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne and George Dyer,” depicting two of the artist’s favorite subjects, fetched 12.2 million pounds, just above the high estimate. A 1971 work, “Two Men Working in a Field,” sold for 10.7 million pounds, also slightly surpassing the high target. The winner was art dealer Gary Tatintsian, who said he bought it for a Russian client.
She also spoke to art adviser Todd Levin who won an Alberto Burri during the sale:
“We are at the tail end of a season,” said Todd Levin, director of Levin Art Group in New York, who advises collectors. “Some people might be a little spent out; others are exhausted.”
“Dubuffet prices are now entering a new orbit,” Levin said. “I saw a number of frustrated friends in the audience who were throwing their hands up because the prices were going above what they were comfortable with.”
The biggest news of the night was negative, the lack of buyers for works by Gerhard Richter something that confirmed signals from Phillips the night before.
It was a “tough night for Richter, but they were not great examples,” said Mary Hoeveler, a New York-based art adviser. “It seems the days are gone when it all just flies.”
Judd Tully dug in:
On a different market track, with the five Gerhard Richter offerings, ranging from 1969 to 1995 and with estimates from £800,000 to £6 million, there was seemingly something for everyone by Europe’s most expensive living artist. Oddly, to put it mildly, only one of the five sold. “Seestuck (Oliv bewolkt) (Seascape (with Olive Clouds)” from 1969, in oil on canvas, was the only survivor and made a tepid £1,538,500/$2,413,907 (est. £2-3 million). The seascape has been in the same family collection since the early 1970s.
Another photo-based work by Richter, “Baume im Feld (Trees in Field)” from 1988, depicting a sunny countryside vista, and already owned by Christie’s, according to the printed symbol in the catalogue, died at a chandelier bid £3.8 million (est. £4-6 million).
When asked about the seeming Richter market burnout after the sale, Brett Gorvy, Christie’s chairman and international head of Post-War and Contemporary art, attributed it to the relative darkness of the pictures on offer and their more intellectually demanding content. It’s “not where the market is strongest,” he said. “New buyers prefer more decorative, more colorful works.”
Colin Gleadell was a bit sharper on Artnet News ascribing the weak Richter showing to a preference for New York sales over London:
Brett Gorvy described them as too “intellectual” for the market—though actually they were just dull. I doubt he would have included them in his New York sale at last night’s estimates of between £800,000 and £4 million.
Tully had some bright points from the sale:
Alighiero Boetti’s embroidered “Mappa” from 1990, featuring his multi-colored and map symbol rich canvas, went to New York art advisor Abigail Asher of Guggenheim Asher for £1,535,500/$2,413,907 (est. £1.1-1.5 million).
“I think Boetti Mappas are icons of 20th-century art,” said Asher, moments after her purchase for a private American client, “and there’s certainly room for that market to grow and for those prices to increase.”
Confounding almost any category, Yves Klein’s other-worldly abstraction “peinture de feu couleur sans titre, (FC 27),” or so-called “fire color paintings” from 1962, executed in the last year of his life in dry pigment, synthetic resin, and varnish on a flame licked board and housed in the artist-made frame, sold to Scarlet Smatana of the Athens’ based George Economou Collection for £5,906,500/$9,267,299 (unpublished estimate in the region of £5 million). It also was backed by a third party guarantee.
And the unheralded fact is the strength of collections like Tasmania’s David Walsh who built the region’s MONA and was deaccessioning works to finance an expansion:
The MONA group was also 100 percent sold and tallied £4.6/$7.26 million, versus combined pre-sale expectations of £2.95-3.95 million.
Provenance added value last night in many places:
The price points jumped with a group of works from the collection of Lord and Lady Jacobs, as Alexander Calder’s late “Trois cercles, bleu, jaune, rouge (Three Circles, Blue, Yellow, Red)” from 1972, in painted sheet metal and wire, sold for £458,500/$719,387 (est. £250-350,000). Still in the Jacobs’ terrain, Morris Louis’s bold, color striped abstraction “Number 36” from 1962, in acrylic on canvas and scaled at 83 7/8 by 38 3/8 inches, unleashed a bidding war and eventually sold to the telephone for £1,538,500/$2,413,907 (est. £500-700,000), and Roy Lichtenstein’s crisply composed table top still life “Apples, Grapes, Grapefruit” from 1974, in oil and Magna on canvas, sold to William Acquavella of New York’s Acquavella Galleries for £2,098,500/$3,292,547 (est. £1.8-2.5 million). The Louis last sold at Christie’s New York in November 1995 for $178,000. The eight Jacobs offerings were 100 percent sold and realized £6.9 million/$10.9 million compared to combined pre-sales estimates of £4.1-5.75 million.
Gleadell offered these details:
Also selling, but unannounced, like Saatchi, in the catalogue, was Francois Pinault, whose hilarious taxidermy ostrich by Maurizio Cattelan sold just under estimate to the same buyer as the record Ofili for £1.5 million. Pinault’s ornate Absence of God 11 by Raqib Shaw appeared to sell to a Middle Eastern phone bidder below estimate for £722,500.
Other buyers in the room were Cologne dealer, Alex Lachmann, who bought Thomas Schutte’s Quartett (1994), below estimate for £182,500; London dealer, Stephen Ongpin, who bought Ben Nicholson’s Nov 51 (Silver and Black)‘, for a bargain £86,500; and agent, Jude Hess, who bought Lucio Fontana’s red, slashed Concetto Spaziale within estimate for £3.3 million against competition from Mugrabi. The painting was last sold in 1999 for £144,500, and the mark up just says it all about the supply and demand which drives the postwar and contemporary art market.
Also buying Fontanas were London dealer, Marco Voena, who bought a red punctured work below estimate for £518,500; and Mugrabi, who outbid David Nahmad for a yellow slashed canvas at an above-estimate £1.7 million. Younger Nahmad, Joe, placed his bets on a Richard Prince Untitled (Cowboy), which Christie’s had guaranteed, and bought it on the low estimate for £842,500 including premium.
Last but not least, Josh Baer, publisher of art industry newsletter the Baer Faxt, reminded us all that he was a dealer and is active as an adviser, buying Ofili’s The Naked Soul of Captain Shit…, guaranteed by Christie’s with a £400,000 low estimate, and sold at a hammer price just below that for a premium inclusive £458,500.
Elephant Dung Madonna Stars in Christie’s London Auction (Bloomberg Business)
Richter Flops at Christie’s London Sale (artnet News)