Market breathes sigh of relief as diversity comes in many forms—geographic, national and price—to the art market. to the art
This commentary by Marion Maneker is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
Christie’s Lancaster Sale = £23m ($28.2m)
A rather unlikely art collection assembled by a relatively unknown British plumbing-supply king ended up providing a great deal of relief for market watchers with frazzled nerves last night. Christie’s held the first sale of Frieze week on the eve of the fair’s preview. The results gave everyone a chance to settle down and focus on selling art instead of worrying about the art market.
At £23m, the sale total came in toward the high end of the pre-sale estimates of £14-19m when the buyer’s premium is taken into account. More to the point, a smattering of international artists proved there was demand in the middle reaches and it would manifest itself in sales that are not glitzy events.
Just prior to the sale, any result seemed possible as many market participants have begun to express trepidation about each new cycle. Although the mid-season results in New York were up year-over-year, there were concerns about the sell-through rates in those auctions and the depth of bidding. But those were off-season events, a mere amuse bouche for the Fall selling season. The Lancaster sale was still a warm-up but even the Frieze sales later in the week are increasingly viewed by the international art market as being pre-cursors to the main event in New York next month.
Some auction house personnel worry that consignors are now too focused on selling in New York (whether that is a comment on the fragile political/macro-economic situation in London or the centripedal power of New York’s tent pole sales in May and November isn’t clear.) Other collectors are concerned about the overall churn in expertise and a market that is increasingly comfortable transacting in private.
Amid this ill ease the Jeremy Lancaster single-owner sale, heavy with relatively obscure British Modern and Contemporary artists at low price points, was an unlikely market barometer. But Lancaster had eclectic enough taste to include a bright Philip Guston and a rich, red Josef Albers. Those works did quite well with the Albers rising from a pre-sale high estimate of £600k to a final hammer price of £1.35m. David Zwirner waited until the last moments to try to secure the work of an artist whose estate the dealer represents but another, more invested bidder was determined to win the lot.
Former Waddington Managing Director, Tom Lighton remembers Lancaster often joking that he’d paid the gallery too much for the Albers – until in 2014, a similar red square painting sold for close to 1 million pounds. That was more than 15 times what he paid, said Lighton, so the joke ended.
Another of David Zwirner’s artists was subjected to steady but small-stepped bidding in the sale of one of the evening’s other big lots. Here’s Gleadell again:
an undulating, colored Op Art painting, Orphean Elegy 7 (1979) by Bridget Riley, whose market has improved consistently over the years. She has joined the David Zwirner stable and, with a major retrospective traveling from the Edinburgh Arts Festival to the Hayward Gallery in London later this month, the painting attracted a posse of international phone bidders before selling for £2.8 million ($3.5 million)—probably the best price for a painting in color by Riley, as opposed to her earlier black-and-white works.
Two works by Philip Guston saw similar bidding. The bigger lot was pushed quickly to a hammer price of $3.2m above the pre-sale high estimate of £2m confirming the market for Guston’s late paintings still has room to run. One of the bidders from the bigger lot wasn’t put off by losing. The Belgian bidder chased a small panel of two hooded figures all the way to £900k against another, more determined telephone bidder. Despite having nearly given up more than once when the bidding had reached a five-handle, she kept at it until the final £920k over a £600k high estimate proved simply too rich. She folded her tents there.
A small Jean Dubuffet work on paper mounted onto canvas saw similar dogged bidding as it went for £230k against a £120k high estimate. These performances suggest the market is populated by hunters who have done their homework combing through catalogues and exhibitions looking for the right works for themselves or their clients.
The deep interest in works in the five-, six- and seven-figure range from a range of artists well-known and obscure gave the sale a different kind of diversity. Although not present in the sale room, Asian bidders were having some background effect on the sales with their presence which Christie’s says was 30% of those registered.
Consignors may want to have their works featured in the big show in New York next month. But the Lancaster sale shows there is no impediment to buyers finding the works they are truly interested in and bidding upon them. A very small Ben Nicolson abstract work sold for £260k hammer or nearly £5000 per square inch. That’s just a wry way of saying that the market is finding value where buyers see it, not necessarily where the spectators are looking.
Christie’s is making a lot out of the composition of sale participants in their post sale coverage claiming 30% of the registered bidders were domiciled in Asia. Another way they put it is to cite registered bidders from 26 countries and four continents. This is significant because of the heavy slant toward Modern British artists like Patrick Caulfield and Howard Hodgkin in the collection.
Christie’s highlighted some of the lots that performed particularly well:
- Philip Guston, Language I (£3,838,250)
- Bridget Riley, Orphean Elegy 7 (£2,831,250)
- Howard Hodgkin, Tea Party in America (1948), £250,000
- Howard Hodgkin,Mrs C (1966), £225,000
- Howard Hodgkin,Bombay Sunset (1972-73), £731,250
- Howard Hodgkin,Artificial Flowers (1975), £323,250
- Howard Hodgkin,Lawson, Underwood & Sleep (1977-80), £611,250
- Howard Hodgkin, Venice Sunset (1989), £371,250
- Josef Albers, Study for Homage to the Square: Red Tetrachord, £1,631,250 against an estimate of £600,000-800,000
- Josef Albers, Construction in Red-Black-Blue, £371,250 against an estimate of £180,000-220,000
- Josef Albers, Study to Affectionate (Homage to the Square), £299,250 against an estimate of £150,000-200,000
- Philip Guston, Untitled (Two Hooded Figures), £1,115,250
- Nicolas de Staël, Nature Morte au Fond Jaune (Still Life with Yellow Background), £1,067,250
- Naum Gabo, Linear Construction in Space No. 2, £515,250
- Andy Warhol, Panda Drummer (Clockwork), £225,000