This report on the results of Christie’s Handpicked sale of Charles Saatchi’s art by Colin Gleadell 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.)
For four years now, septuagenarian collector Charles Saatchi has been pruning his less valuable holdings with sales of 50 or 100 lots at a time, called “Handpicked,” at Christie’s, giving the impression that they’re among the collector’s best works, whereas in reality, they have been sifted from his vast, ever-changing collection, according to their suitability for auction. With his Doigs, Hirsts, Emins, and Regos now gone, it’s hard to find an artist with secondary-market status among his holdings. There is perhaps no greater signal that he is no longer the trendsetter he once was.
Since these “handpicked” culls started in 2017, average prices in them have dropped from more than £10,000 in 2018 to nearer £5,000 in the latest round. Here, half the sale made glum reading. The 27 works that had no bids going into the final straight were withdrawn, and almost as many sold below estimate.
Bucking the trend was the first work at auction by 32-year-old London-based Filipina artist, Maria Farrar, whose exhibition program this year was to have ranged from Ota Fine Arts in Singapore to Marianne Boesky in New York. Saatchi acquired her slightly comic-strip-style Baguette, 2011, from Mother’s Tankstation, Dublin, for his Known Unknown exhibition in 2018. Farrar may become a little better known now after a 42-bid battle sent the painting from its £2,000 low estimate to a final £56,250. So, also, may German photorealist, Ulrich Lamsfuss, since his 2004 painting of a crouching man on fire, based on an advertising image, beat its estimate by 750 percent to fetch £21,250 after 33 bids.
These were two of 20 artists’ records set, though half were on their first outing. Together, they helped the sale hit a mid-estimate £493,250, after the withdrawn lots are deducted, which will come in handy for Saatchi, who has been struggling with gallery finances. Last year, the New York Times revealed that his gallery, which charges entry for specific exhibitions and rents out space to art fairs, had obtained charitable status after suffering a loss of £25,000 in 2017, compared to a gain of £1.2 million in 2016, and a decline of 37 percent in corporate sponsorship.
In the Sunday Times Rich List this year, the Saatchi brothers were reported to have lost £15 million since last year. Most of this was attributable to Maurice Saatchi’s business dealings, while details of brother Charles’ finances were notably absent. Things inevitably got worse with the onset of Covid-19, as the very popular Tutankhamun exhibition had to close in March, taking with it a valuable source of revenue. Last month, Saatchi was among many commercial establishments in Chelsea seeking leniency in rent demands from landlords, the Cadogan Estate. Anticipated fair revenue from the Draw Art London fair scheduled for May never materialized, while the British Art Fair in September has yet to announce its plans.
Those pretty much depend on whether the Saatchi Gallery is still there and can open its doors to the public again. A spokesperson for the gallery said that no other event could take place until the Tutankhamun exhibition, which officially ended last month, but has been locked up since lockdown, could be taken down and moved to its next location.