Sotheby’s £130m Evening sale of Contemporary art closed out the first half of a spectacular year for Modern and Contemporary art with a bang that felt like a whimper. Part of the problem simply comes from the fatigue of such a long season with so many record sales. Judd Tully had this comment from a dealer:
“The auction houses keep pushing the estimates higher so much every time,” said Paris/Salzburg dealer Thaddaeus Ropac. “We don’t realize how strong the market is.”
Indeed, some noteworthy failures in the Richter, Bacon and Warhol markets this week would seem to suggest a turn of the wheel as stalwart market-driving names lost some of their luster. But as the Richter results show, the works that failed had history against them. Those that succeeded like Sotheby’s Richter, “A B Brick Tower” made strong prices without outpacing the estimates.
The Art Newspaper’s Anny Shaw made this astute point about the market’s shift at the shank end of the season toward the middle:
Overall, contemporary works with estimates in the low hundreds of thousands did well. Just under 40% of lots sold for less than £500,000. “We saw high profile prices in New York. Then in Basel, most works sold for around £500,000. Very few paintings sold for more than £5m. Our results are indicative of where the market is, but they are also indicative of wh ere we are after a six-month season,” Gorvy said.
Even the big names were better represented by middle market subject matter like dollar bill collection of mostly Warhols said to be consigned by Swiss hotelier Urs Schwarzenbach. As Colin Gleadell points out, much of the work was absorbed by engrossers in the Warhol market instead of collectors. Thought the £20m top lot did seem to wind up with a retail buyer:
Other dollar sign buyers were dealer, Larry Gagosian, who bought a rare 1981 silkscreen with 20 dollar signs on it for £6.9 million, near the top estimate, and outbidding Jose Mugrabi who went on to buy a single, multi-coloured image near the low estimate for £4.4 million. Mugrabi also underbid on a small yellow Warhol dollar sign that sold to an online bidder for £545,000, and a small red one, that sold to a phone bidder for £509,000, both double their mid estimates. As an indication of how these plain dollar sign paintings have increased in value, the latter ($799,300 in dollar terms) was bought in 1998 for $24,200.
Gleadell isolated a few of the works that made strong showings:
Contending for the best gain of the evening was Andreas Gursky’s large C print, Shanghai, (2000), which sold in the 2009 slump for £289,000 and now doubled the low estimate to sell for £1.1 million.
The second British record of note was for Portuguese born Paula Rego, whose work is beginning to attract international attention. A pastel, Looking Out, (1997), attracted Asian bidding before selling above estimate for a record £965,000. This was followed by a 1988 acrylic of her most sought after kind, The Cadet and his Sister, pulsating with innuendo, which surpassed estimates and the previous record to sell for £1.1 million.
Judd Tully also cautioned against market cynicism. Take this example of a Basquiat that sold at the low end of the estimate, seemingly a disappointment. Nonetheless, the sale provided a solid double-digit gain to the consignor:
Seven-figure sums went higher with Jean Michel Basquiat’s baseball inspired “Orange Sports Figure” from 1982 (lot 4), comprised of acrylic, oilstick and spray paint on canvas, which brought £5,637,000/$8,851,781 (Est. £5-7 million). The disembodied head with its three-pointed crown came to bat with an irrevocable bid backer. It had last sold at Sotheby’s London in February 2012 for £4,073,250, and made a fairly tidy return in just over two years.
Tully also circled back to the Richter market and shows us that one buyer played an important role in rescuing the artist’s results in London:
After a rough and tumble evening on Tuesday at Christie’s, where four out of five entries failed to sell, the fortunes of Gerhard Richter markedly improved , as the color-charged and waterfall-like abstract “A B, Brick Tower” from 1987 (lot 17), standing 78 ¾ inches tall, sold to the telephone for £14,149,000/$22,218,175 (est. £12-16 million).
It had last sold at auction at Christie’s New York in November 2001, two months after 9/11 and before Richter’s market ignited, for $534,000.
Richter’s “Portrait Schmela” from 1964 (lot 18), a photo-realist style (though seemingly out-of-focus) homage to his bespectacled and goateed Dusseldorf dealer and patron, sold to the same telephone bidder (identified as paddle #LO142) for £3,285,000/$5,158,436 (est. £3-4 million).
A third Richter, “Stadtbild M 6” from 1968 (lot 20), an overhead cityscape view that was backed by a Sotheby’s guarantee, brought in at £1.8 million and became the property of the auction house (est. £2-4 million).
Sotheby’s Big But Bruising Contemporary Art Evening Sale in London (BLOUIN ARTINFO)
Private collections boost contemporary sales in London (The Art Newspaper)
Sotheby’s London $204 M Sale Misses Target (artnet News)