£38 Million Hockney Powers Christie’s Contemporary Sale
Christie’s post-war and contemporary art evening sale in London was a swift success, if not a rollicking one, with all but three of the evening’s 41 lots finding buyers in a little over an hour, for a sell-through rate of 93% by lot.
The sale’s total of £79.2 million ($104.3 million) was a significant drop from the equivalent evening sale one year ago, which brought in £137.9 million ($190 million) across 65 lots, setting a record for a contemporary art auction in Europe. With a no-deal Brexit now looming and London’s status as the foremost art marketplace in Europe hanging in the balance, it’s not entirely surprising that Wednesday night’s sale was a more measured affair. The Christie’s sale also fell short of rival house Sotheby’s evening sale of contemporary art the night before, which notched £93.2 million ($122.8 million); Sotheby’s did, however, have a marginally worse sell-through rate of 90.9%.
Still, the evening’s banner lot outperformed its pre-sale estimate, and a number of artists’ records were broken.
- Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1969) quickly surpassed its on-request estimate of £30 million ($39.5 million), with Christie’s chairman for the Americas, Marc Porter; business manager, Amelie Sarrado Helbich Poschacher; and Christie’s Europe chairman, Pedro Girao, competing on behalf of phone bidders. The large double-portrait of Geldzahler, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and his partner, follows on the heels of another prized Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972), which made the British painter the most expensive living artist when it sold for $90.3 million at Christie’s in New York in November. Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott eventually hammered at £33 million ($43.4 million), to Poschacher’s bidder. With fees, the price came to £37.7 million ($49.5 million), or almost half of the sale’s £79.3 million total.
- Bouteilles (Bottles) (1952) incited a minutes-long bidding war between four Christie’s specialists, driving the work well past its high estimate of £2.5 million ($3.3 million). Senior director and head of private sales Alice de Roquemaurel eventually prevailed, logging the winning bid of £3.8 million ($5 million), or £4.5 million ($5.9 million) with fees.
- Night Passage (1999), a large and nearly abstract canvas in pastel hues, cruised past its high estimate of £2.5 million ($3.3 million), with Christie’s post-war and contemporary art specialist Tessa Lord and post-war and contemporary art specialist and vice president Joanna Szymkowiak vying for the lot. It eventually sold to Lord’s bidder for a hammer price of £2.6 million ($3.4 million), or £3.1 million ($4.1 million) with fees.
- large squeegee painting A B, Tower (1987) also sold for £2.6 million ($3.4 million), or £3.1 million ($4.1 million) with fees; it went to a bidder on the phone with Girao. But the result represented an underperformance against the work’s pre-sale estimate of £3 million to £5 million ($3.9 million to $6.6 million).
The Harlem-based painter
The jubilant bidding extended to the evening’s second lot, portrait painting Chris (2004), which eclipsed its high estimate of £50,000 ($66,000) and finally hammered down at £130,000 ($171,000), or £162,500 ($214,000) with fees.
But after that opening salvo, bidding became more cautious, with auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen willing the evening’s first seven-figure lot, The Collector 4 (2009), just reach and hammer down at its low estimate of £2.2 million ($2.9 million), or £2.7 million ($3.6 million) with fees.
A small gouache by Hockney, Santa Monica (1968), appeared just after the blockbuster double portrait and seemed to benefit from its afterglow. It surpassed its high estimate of £250,000 ($329,000) to sell for a hammer price of £420,000 ($553,000), or £515,250 ($678,000) with fees, on a bid by Christie’s senior vice president and senior director of client advisory in New York, Margot Rosenberg. But another Hockney, a still-life from the collection of artist
The Hockney wasn’t the sale’s first buy-in: Fellow big-name Brit large, tragicomic painting Haus der Bilder (House of Pictures) (2001) also didn’t find a taker; it had been tagged with a pre-sale estimate of £3 million to £5 million ($3.9 million to $6.6 million). An
Though the night’s banner lot fared well, and there was plenty of action for many of the lots under £1 million, several of the Christie’s works in the low seven-figure range struggled to meet their low estimates or went unsold. Untitled (2016), Clartés Alentour (Surrounding Clarity) (1956), Blue Michigan (1961), Concetto spaziale, Attese (1960), and Peinture 162 x 130cm, 16 octobre 1966 (1966) all hammered down for exactly at or well under their seven-figure low estimates. Contrasted by the sale’s high sell-through rate, we may not yet be looking at a slowdown, but Brexit-rattled U.K. buyers do seem sobered for now.
The post-war and contemporary art sales continue at Christie’s in London with a day sale on Thursday. Thursday’s evening sale at Phillips will close out the week’s major auctions, though they’ll be followed by a dedicated evening sale of works from the collection of late pop superstar George Michael at Christie’s on March 14th.
Benjamin Sutton is Artsy’s News Editor.