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The great surprise of the London Contemporary art sales was not the strong performance of works by younger artists or overlooked historical masters. Taken together, all four auction houses transacted somewhere around £186m with only a few of those works selling above £10m.
That trend within the art market continues to be pronounced and persistent. We'll have a more detailed discussion of the sales composition and performance when we publish our sales analysis in the next week. In the meantime, let's marvel at the unexpected strong performance of the Evening sales of Contemporary art in London just when it looked like these events were getting squeezed out of the calendar.
To be sure, the top of the market is much lower than it has been in the past for these sales. Sotheby's posted the biggest single lot with a guaranteed Lucian Freud reclining nude that sold for nearly $30m. Just below that was the surprise lot of the week, Jean-Michel Basquiat's untitled work sold from an American collection (said to be New Line's Michael Lynne) that composed a significant portion of Sotheby's sale. It made just below $20m but had carried a low estimate nearly half of the final selling price.
The dogged bidding over the Basquiat began with auctioneer Oliver Barker pushing the opening bids toward the low estimate. It wasn't long before two aggressive telephone bidders engaged in pitched campaign to out do each other. Their bids came either without the briefest hesitation or in increments greater than the crying required. The underbidder bowed out several times before finally capitulating.
In the current climate where high-value works are sold with an armature of financial support surrounding them which have a tendency to often but not always dampen bidding, it was a rare show of determination by two collectors.
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