£38 Million Hockney Powers Christie’s Contemporary Sale
David Hockney, Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott, 1969. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2019.
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.
Jordan Casteel, Patrick and Omari, 2015. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2019.
Gerhard Richter, A B, Tower, 1987. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2019.
- David Hockney’s 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.
- Nicolas de Staël’s 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.
- Cecily Brown’s 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.
- Gerhard Richter’s 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).
Cecily Brown, Night Passage, 1999. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2019.
The Harlem-based painter Jordan Casteel was among the three artists whose records were broken Wednesday night (the other two were painter Jonathan Yeo and sculptor Barry Flanagan). The first lot of the night, Casteel’s double portrait Patrick and Omari (2015), hammered down at £240,000 ($316,000), or four times its high estimate, after a bidding war among Christie’s specialists and an online bidder; Christie’s senior client advisor Sumiko Roberts logged the winning bid. With fees, the price came to £299,250 ($394,000), nearly five times Casteel’s previous auction record of $81,250, set last May at Sotheby’s in New York.
The jubilant bidding extended to the evening’s second lot, Henry Taylor’s 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, Adrian Ghenie’s 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.
Joan Mitchell, Blue Michigan, 1961. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2019.
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 Frank Stella, failed to sell; it had been estimated to sell for £1.5 million to £2 million ($2 million to $2.6 million).
The Hockney wasn’t the sale’s first buy-in: Fellow big-name Brit Peter Doig’s 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 Anselm Kiefer that had been estimated at £500,000 to £700,000 ($658,000 to $921,000) was also bought in.
Nicolas de Staël, Bouteilles (Bottles), 1952. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2019.
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. George Condo’s Untitled (2016), Jean Dubuffet’s Clartés Alentour (Surrounding Clarity) (1956), Joan Mitchell’s Blue Michigan (1961), Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Attese (1960), and Pierre Soulages’s 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.