Art Market

Basquiat Leads £93.2 Million Sotheby’s Sale of Contemporary Art

Nate Freeman
Mar 6, 2019 12:19AM

Sotheby's Post-War and Contemporary Art Sale, March, 2019. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

The week of contemporary art auctions in London began tonight at Sotheby’s New Bond Street salesroom in Mayfair, where nearly two hours of bidding wars produced a £93.2 million total ($122.8 million), squarely in the middle of the low and high estimates of £75.5 million and £104.5 million ($99.7 million and $138 million). A healthy amount of bidding lifted the house, which achieved a sell-through rate of 90.9% by lot.

Top lots

  • Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Apex (1986), a large work featuring two disembodied heads, sold to Sotheby’s chairman of Switzerland, Caroline Lang, for a hammer price of £7 million ($9.3 million), or £8.2 million ($10.8 million) with fees. The hammer put it right in the middle of its on-request estimate between £5 million and £7 million ($6.6 million and $9.2 million).
  • Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (2009) came close to getting bought in, but after a few excruciating moments on the stand, it was purchased with a single bid from co-head of the fine art division, Amy Cappellazzo, at £5.9 million ($7.8 million), under the low estimate of £6 million ($7.9 million), but apparently at the reserve. With the buyer’s premium, the price was £6.9 million ($9.1 million).
  • Roy Lichtenstein’s Vicki! I—I Thought I Heard Your Voice (1964) also saw just one single bid, and was purchased by the London senior director James Sevier for a hammer price of £4.9 million ($6.5 million), just below the low estimate of £5 million ($6.6 million). With fees, it came to £5.8 million ($7.7 million). That marks a half-million-dollar return for the seller, who purchased the painting at Sotheby’s New York in November 2015 for $7.1 million.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, Selective Histories, 2016. Courtesy of Sothey

Rebecca Warren, Fascia III, 2010. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

A record was broken for the English artist Rebecca Warren, whose sculpture Fascia III (2010) sold for a £450,000 ($594,000) hammer, or £555,000 ($731,435) with fees, on the second lot of the night. New marks were also recorded for Adam Pendleton, a sculpture for Martin Kippenberger, and for Toyin Ojih Odutola, who was making her debut in an evening sale. Her painting Selective Histories (2016) hammered at £200,000 ($264,000), well above the high estimate of £150,000 ($197,685), for a with-fees price of £250,000 ($329,475).

The sale was also marked by the highest-ever proportion of female artists in an evening sale at Sotheby’s, with the run of work led by Jenny Saville, who became the world’s most expensive living female artist when Propped (1992) sold at Sotheby’s in October for £9.5 million ($12.4 million). Her star lot in tonight’s sale, Juncture (1994), saw just a single bid from European contemporary art head Alex Branczik, for £4.8 million ($6.3 million), and saw its price go up to £5.4 million ($7.2 million) with fees. It last sold at Christie’s London in February 2009 for £457,250 ($675,000)—marking an increase of more than 1,000%.

The sale also included work from a number of major collections, including that of David Teiger—11 lots from his collection sold in a special suite at Sotheby’s New York in November 2018, grossing $48.5 million. There was work from the collection of architect Louis J. C. Tan, including Andy Warhol’s Little Campbell’s Soup Can (Minestrone) (1962), which hammered at £1.8 million ($2.4 million)—or £2.1 million ($2.8 million) with fees—to David Schrader, head of private sales. One living consignor who made out big tonight was the fashion designer Marc Jacobs: Sotheby’s successfully sold six of his works for a total take of more than £4.3 million ($5.7 million).


Jenny Saville, Juncture, 1994. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Andy Warhol, Little Campbell's Soup Can (Minestrone), 1962. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

The total is down just a tick from last year’s equivalent sale, which grossed £109.2 million—not a disaster by any means, but also not the sign of a surging market. And there was the issue of the Mark Bradford painting with an estimate between £2.3 million and £3.5 million ($3 million and $4.6 million) that failed to sell. More troubling, the lack of bidding on many of the night’s higher lots indicated that perhaps interest in pricey works is waning—so many lots with prices near or above £5 million (around $6.6 million) had just a single bidder, often the guarantor. And if the lack of bidding by Asian specialists tonight is a harbinger of things to come later in the week, the London contemporary sales may lack the fireworks of years past.

The auctions continue Wednesday with the day sales at Sotheby’s and, at night, the post-war and contemporary art evening sale at Christie’s.

Nate Freeman
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019