Sotheby’s did well last night with two sales that balanced out their London market. The combined total was £76.8m or $118m which is quite strong given the global economic climate and the dearth of big name works on the Contemporary market. Indeed, the Italian sale picked up the slack with Lucio Fontana’s La Fine di Dio which sold for a record, pre-arranged price off of an irrevocable bid. Still, the sale got done in public and added to Sotheby’s totals.
The strength in the Italian market is as much a measure of how much postwar Italian art has become a new foundation for the Contemporary market. Fontana has long been a pillar of Contemporary art but now artists like Alberto Burri are receiving the kind of canonizing international attention that transforms prices. Here’s Katya Kazakina:
Alberto Burri, who is having a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, also did well. His 1961 “Bianco Plastica 1” sold for 2.6 million pounds, surpassing the high estimate of 2 million pounds. At least four people competed for the work that featured a burnt plastic surface. Art dealer David Nahmad was the winner.
A 1956 piece by Burri, “Combustione M.2,” went for 1.8 million pounds, three times its low estimate of 600,000 pounds. The piece, made with burnt wood and paper, last appeared at auction in 2008 when it sold for 421,250 pounds.
Italian works have been no stranger to the Contemporary market but the lack of incentive for owners of high-quality Contemporary works to sell has the Italians filling the gaps.
Colin Gleadell made this point in his report:
It was noticeable that the majority of the unsold lots were works that had been on the market in the last ten years or so, and were now looking for big mark-ups. Mark Grotjahn’s Face, 2007, for instance, was bought in 2011 for £217,250 and was looking for at least £1.3 million and didn’t sell.
Christopher Wool‘s spotted, untitled 1988 canvas that Gunther Forg had bought in 2011 for $842,500, was not unnecessarily marked up at £500,000/700,000, but more likely the victim of too many Wools on the market this week when it too went unsold.
Judd Tully tries to illustrate:
“For what was once a localized market,” said New York art advisor Abigail Asher of Guggenheim Asher, “it felt international tonight. We bid on three things and only got one.” Asher bought Alighiero Boetti’s language rich woven tapestry “Oggi il quarto giorno dell’ottavo mese dell’ anno millenovecentoottantotto,” from 1988, for £269,000/$416,412 (est. £150-200,000). It last sold in November 2004 at Sotheby’s Milan for €78,000. “I think they’re icons,” said Asher, speaking of the series, “and very undervalued.”
Back in the emerging artist market, Tully reminds us of the incredible leverage primary dealers have over collectors when an artist gets exceptionally hot:
On that same youthful track, Jonas Wood’s heavily patterned interior, “Rosy’s Masks,” the title referring to the artist’s grandfather and various tribal-like objects pegged on a wall, dates from 2008 and is similarly huge at 101 ½ by 75 inches. It sold for £293,000/$453,564 (est. £200-300,000). Wood in the primary market is waiting list only and perspective buyers reportedly have to acquire two, with one reserved for a museum donation.
Gleadell and Tully are sedulous in their preparation revealing important information on the market’s progress.
Here is Gleadell:
The top lot was Jean Michel Basquiat’s six-foot canvas Untitled (The Black Athlete) (1982), which was unsold the last time it came to auction in 2004 with a $1.2 to $1.8 million estimate. A while later, around 2009, it appeared at Christophe van de Weghe’s New York gallery and was reportedly sold to London jeweller Laurence Graff with an asking price of 3.5 million Euros. Now, with a £3.5 to 4.5 million estimate and catalogued as from ‘a distinguished private collection’ (acquired from Van de Weghe), it sold to a phone bidder for a slightly disappointing £4.1 million. Also from the same collection, presumably Graff’s, came an Andy Warhol portrait of Lenin, bought at auction in 2002 for £358,650, which now reaped a handsome return selling within estimate for £3 million. Other works from the same collection were a 1967 set of Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe editioned screenprints, bought in 2004 for £430,850 and now sold for £1.5 million, and a Warhol portrait of Judy Garland, bought in 2002 for £443,250 but unsold with a £750,000 low estimate.
And now Tully showing the returns sellers are getting even on minor works:
Andy Warhol’s modestly scaled, 22 by 22 inch blue and red “Flowers,” an acrylic and silkscreen on linen painting from 1964-65, made £1,055,000/$1,633,140 (est. £1-1.5 million). It was once owned by legendary New York Pop Art collectors Ethel and Robert Scull and last sold at auction at Phillips de Pury & Company London in October 2008 for £735,650.
Though a rather unfamiliar Gerhard Richter abstract, “Ausschnitt (Kreutz)” from 1971, an oscillating composition in rather muddy colors, still found its place, selling for £2,613,000/$4,044,924 (est. £1.8-2.5 million). It last sold at Christie’s London in February 2011 for £1,049,250. That would be a win in any stock portfolio. Art advisor Amy Cappellazzo was the underbidder.
Finally, let’s let Gleadell have the last word on records from Sotheby’s sale:
There were four notable record prices. A 1990 sculpture by Isa Genzken(who is also Richter’s former wife), was pursued by seven or eight bidders, including British collector, Fatima Maleki, before selling for a quadruple estimate £677,000. An eight-foot painted lead panel by Gunther Forg doubled estimates to fetch £509,000. Sotheby’s experts said a similar work had been at Art Basel in the summer for a comparable amount. A sizable 10-foot portrait, Girl with Duck, by Michael Borremans, also set a record when it sold for a double estimate £2 million. The fourth record was a bit of a cheat as it was the first painting by Latvian-born, US-based artist, Ella Kruglyanskaya, to come to auction. Currently enjoying a very successful exhibition at Thomas Dane’s gallery, and tipped to go far, Kruglyanskaya’s 2011 painting, Swordfish Panic, sold above estimate for £81,250.
Fontana $24.7 Million Egg Painting Leads Sotheby’s London Sales (Bloomberg Business)
Basquiat Leads Sotheby’s $56.3 Million Sale (news.artnet)
Sotheby’s Italian Art & Contemporary Sales Bring $118.8M (BLOUIN ARTINFO)