The over-arching concern about the Contemporary art sales in London this week was whether Christie’s departure would destabilize the market. The preliminary answer based upon last night’s £62.3m sales at Sotheby’s is that June in London remains a good time to sell art.
Sotheby’s got buyers for almost all of their works. Some of the sales were effectuated through the use of guarantees and irrevocable bids. Others were the product of good staff work landing buyers for works that might have fallen back to the trade in after auction sales. They even cleared some previously guaranteed inventory even if it required taking a loss. Demand remains relatively high after strong May sales in New York, stronger sales at Art Basel in Switzerland and the prospect of bigger sales in London in October.
Anny Shaw got one London dealer’s take:
“If it had been business as usual, [Sotheby’s] may have been able to extract the larger ticket items from consignors,” he said.
Tiroche described the sale as “tight and solid”, but revealed Sotheby’s and Christie’s had struggled with consignments with around two weeks to go before their deadlines. “Lots of material had to be scrambled from dealers,” he said.
The most prominent work of the evening was not the most valuable. But Sotheby’s is making a PR push with the Warhol sale to make a point that Christie’s sat out a solid opportunity to make sales. Here’s Judd Tully on the sale of Andy Warhol’s first series of self portraits:
Guaranteed with an irrevocable bid, it received one bid from Turkish collector Kemal Cingillioglu (the guarantor?) before selling to a telephone bidder for £6 million ($7.7 million).
Collector might not be the most appropriate description of Cingillioglu who is a frequent buyer or guarantor and eventual seller or supplier to the auctions. Perhaps he is better called a collector/dealer or, even better, a permanent market participant (PMP).
The actual top lot of the evening was a lot that demonstrated one the themes of the evening that we’ll get to below. Here’s Shaw:
The most expensive lot was a 1983 triptych by Basquiat that sold for £5.6m (£6.5m with fees; est £4m-£6m). It went to Sotheby’s chief operating officer Adam Chinn on the phone after lengthy bidding from the dealer Christophe van de Weghe and the Paris collector John Sayegh Belchatowski.
Again, presuming the buyer Chinn was bidding for is a collector, we see the buyer having to fend off a dealer and another PMP to acquire the work. Colin Gleadell also caught a similar dynamic on two different lots:
A Dubuffet oil and collage, Beret Rose (1957), attracted bids from collectors Dimitri Mavromatis and Kemal Cingillioglu as well as from dealer David Nahmad before selling above estimate for £2.6 million ($33.6 million).
A white, punctured Fontana saw bids from adviser Patricia Marshall, collector Belchatowski, and dealer Nahmad before selling to a phone bidder above estimate for £2.2 million ($2.8 million).
That Fontana also had the distinction of watching David Nahmad haggle from the front row for several chopped bids much to auctioneer Oliver Barker’s consternation. The final example of the kind of traffic created by PMPs in the sale also has the extra kicker of a noted Basquiat dealer actively talking his book.
a collaborative work by Basquiat and Warhol, Sweet Pungent (1984–5), from the collection of fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, attracted prolonged competitive bidding from dealer Paolo Vedovi among others, before selling at double estimate for £4.4 million ($5.7 million).
Until recently, Warhol, the master, was considered the dominant partner to Basquiat, the protégé. “Not anymore,” says van de Weghe. “The Basquiat element is the more valuable.”
The curiosity of the collaboration sale wasn’t necessarily the market interest; nor was it the seeming inversion of value where Basquiat’s contribution has become more of a draw than the market titan Warhol. It was the fact that work was one of a pair of collaborations owned by Hilfiger—and the one with the lower estimate.
What excitement there was in Sotheby’s sale centered around lower value works from artists not yet over-exposed by the market. Here’s Tully on the Warhol no one was really talking about:
A second Warhol, the petite yet dynamic 12 by 10 1/8 inch “Mao” from 1973, sold to another telephone bidder for £788,750/$1,009,679 (est. £600-800,000).
It last sold at Sotheby’s New York in September 2014 for $677,000.
A 50% gain in less than three years when the artist’s overall market is stalled is worth noting even if the painting might not have been. ArtNews’s Nate Freeman caught the action on the Tillmans:
Of the few highlights that followed, perhaps most notable was the dozen-bidders-deep battle that erupted during the sale of Wolfgang Tillmans’s Freischwimmer #81 (2005). After the smoke cleared, the work had sold for 500,750 ($647,500), an astounding four times its high estimate and a record for the artist in pounds. It’s clear that the double whammy of the Tillmans show at the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, and a high demand for his work at the fair there has pushed his market to a new high.
Judd Tully dug into the details on the Damien Hirst medicine cabinet that had several bidders and was the source of Oliver Barker’s early coup:
The first of three Damien Hirst offerings, “Eight Over Eight” from 1997-98 and better known as one of his serial medicine cabinets, made up of glass, painted MDF, aluminum, metal pins, nickel-plated steel, sliding door lock and pharmaceutical packaging, sold to another telephone bidder for £728,750/$932,873 (est. 450-650,000). It was backed by a Sotheby’s guarantee. It last sold at Sotheby’s storied “Damien Hirst: Pharmacy” sale in October 2004 for £162,400 when the contents of his closed restaurant went on the block.
And Colin Gleadell fills in the narrative on the one record price of the evening by Cecily Brown:
Brown has been busily proving that there is life after Gagosian, as demonstrated by strong sales at Art Basel this year. This sale featured a 1998 painting, The Girl Who Had Everything, owned by Charles Saatchi when shown at Gagosian in 2000. Saatchi sold it at Phillips in 2007 to Gagosian (presumably for a client) for £533,414 ($1.1 million). The painting was one of her first to break the million-dollar barrier at auction. Sent back to auction this evening from the Gagosian buyer—and two years after her split from the dealer—it sold for £1.9 million ($2.4 million).
Two trends seems to be contributing to London’s success: the overall trend toward the middle of the market and intense competition for works in the low seven-figure range and the extensive use of guarantees to support sales.
There’s a corollary observation to the two trends above which is that, in the case of Sotheby’s sale, we can see from some of the reported bidding in the room that the PMPs are doing a good job of putting a floor under prices through third-party guarantees and active bidding in the room.
Half the value of Evening sale went to the block with some form of guarantee. Many of the top lots either sold to the irrevocable bidder who, by definition, is a permanent market participant or the buyer had to out bid those dealers and collector dealers who were bidding.
That’s actually a good sign for the market. Permanent market participants bid and buy when they see value in the market that they believe will be realized some time in the future.
Warhol’s first ‘selfie’ sells for £6m at ‘tight and solid’ Sotheby’s sale (The Art Newspaper)