£57 Million Sotheby’s Sale Led by Twombly and Hockney
Sotheby’s opened London’s annual Frieze Week evening auctions on Thursday with a lackluster double-barreled sale of Italian and contemporary art that brought in a combined £57 million, or £68.7 million (just under $91 million) including fees, in a night that saw several big hits and many more misses.
The contemporary sale’s total of £50.3 million, including buyer’s premium, was the highest-ever total for a Sotheby’s auction during Frieze Week. Two lots were withdrawn, but over 88% of the remaining lots sold, a sharp contrast to the “In Context” sale of Italian post-war artists that preceded it and which saw nearly a third of its lots go unsold.
Claudia Dwek, chair of Sotheby’s Italy, said the Italian sale had suffered a few “casualties,” and noted the market had clearly become more “selective.” She cited the growing presence of Italian art in the market, especially around London, which created more competition for prize lots. The recent relaxation of Italy’s export laws also may have brought in an abundance of new material.
The results were a steep drop from Sotheby’s London’s spring sale, which brought in £117.4 million including fees charged to the buyer, on 56 lots sold; that result, a 70% rise over the same sale one year before, was heralded at the time as a sign of the London market’s resilience. Thursday night’s auction featured 43 lots, of which 38 sold. None were estimated at nor reached eight figures, and several held estimates in the low five figures. But Sotheby’s sales across locations and categories are up 30% from the same period a year ago, the company said after the auction.
The night had several pleasant surprises, including a record for
Albers’s Homage to the Square: Temperate (1957) broke the artist’s previous record by nearly £1 million, with eight bidders pushing up the gorgeous blue, purple, and pink painting to £1.89 million, or £2.2 million with fees. It last sold at Sotheby’s London in February 2007 for £445,600 and on Thursday had been estimated at between £700,000 and £1 million. On Friday, Sotheby’s will hold a sale of
Hockney’s fresh-to-market painting of the Grand Canyon, 15 Canvas Study of the Grand Canyon (1998), sold for just above its high estimate of £5 million, hammering at £5.2 million (£6 million including the buyer’s fees). The 15-part work, which had been shown as part of his much-lauded recent retrospective at the Tate Britain, features rich reds and oranges, capped by a thin blue horizon line.
Several other works came in at well above estimates: The second lot in the contemporary sale, Tate Modern and the Fondation Beyeler. The following lot,
The sale’s cover lot, an untitled 1962
Two works by record-setting $110.4 million in New York this spring, were on offer. Their estimates were a fraction of that recent blockbuster lot, which started bidding at $57 million. The higher-priced of the two paintings, Bronze (1982), was estimated to sell for between £5 million and £7 million. But despite the record, and perhaps because of the many Basquiats that have popped up at recent fairs, including Frieze, Bronze found no takers. The lower-priced of the two works, Remote Commander (1984), which last sold at Sotheby’s in 1990 for $203,500 with fees, hammered in at £2.5 million before fees, just below its £2.6 million low estimate, bringing Sotheby’s a mid-estimate £2.9 million with the addition of the buyer’s premium.
The auction featured just one work by
A delightful mobile by Whitney Museum of American Art, and one of the evening’s higher-priced lots at an estimated £1.8 million to £2.5 million, sold for £2.4 million, or £2.8 million with fees. The work came from a descendant of the sculptor
Sotheby’s sold Wall Street Journal.
The evening began with a sale of modern Italian art that netted £15.2 million (£18.4 million including fees), against an estimated £19.5 million to £27.2 million. In addition to the Italian artists, Sotheby’s added works by their famous contemporaries, highlighting the dialogue between Italian luminaries such as
Like the contemporary art sale, many items in the Italian sale were modestly priced for an evening auction, with several carrying low estimates in the five figures. Among them,
Some of the higher-priced Fontana lots, including two of his slashed canvases, or tagli, were met with surprisingly weak demand. One, a bright red monochrome with three slits, Concetto Spaziale, Attese (1968) sold for £1.3 million to Amy Cappellazzo, chair of the Fine Art division at Sotheby’s, who was bidding on behalf of a client. That price didn’t even touch the low estimate of £1.5 million, and Cappellazzo was the only bidder. A second Concetto Spaziale, Attese (1962), with nine slits across an olive green canvas, was estimated at £1.2 to £1.8 million, and failed to find a bidder.
As with Basquiat, Fontana had no shortage of works on offer this week, with at least half a dozen Fontanas available at Frieze Masters. Tornabuoni Fine Art’s booth featured three, with prices from €1.15 million to €3.5 million. This reflects plentiful supply of his works at auction and at fairs since the Italian market heated up and reached what it retrospect was perhaps a peak in November 2015, when Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio (1964) sold for $29.2 million.
Thursday night’s sale took place against a backdrop of ongoing Brexit uncertainty and featured few of the big-ticket, trophy works that a more selective market is hungry for. It also didn’t benefit from the same influx of bidding from overseas buyers seen last year following the pound’s steep post-Brexit decline; the so-called “Brexit discount” made some works 25% cheaper than they had been six months before. Sterling has risen steadily against the dollar since last year, from a low of $1.20 to around $1.32 this week, although it has also fallen against the euro.
The evening auctions continue with Christie’s and Phillips holding post-war and contemporary sales on Friday. Christie’s will also hold an Italian sale on Friday.
Anna Louie Sussman