Christie’s £137 Million Night Breaks Record for a Contemporary Art Sale in Europe
Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary evening art sale in London pulled off an almost flawless performance Tuesday night, notching the highest-ever total for any contemporary art auction held in Europe, to the tune of £137.9 million, including buyer’s fees.
Only five of the 65 lots offered failed to sell, for a stellar buy-in rate by lot of 92%
“It’s a reaffirmation of the solidity of the market and the value of great art,” said pan-European mega-dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, who has galleries in Paris, London, and Salzburg, citing some “unexpected super-highs” in the sale.
The hammer total, or the tally before fees, was £117,725,000, just above the low estimate of £113,370,000. Including fees, it did not reach the high estimate of £160,840,000 .
Nevertheless, the result toppled last March’s £96.3 million total for the 56 lots that sold, a chunky and market-affirming rise of 43 percent for the same sale a year ago. In a further sign of the market’s health (or, some might say, froth), 24 works sold for over £1 million after fees. Of those, seven exceeded £5 million. In dollar terms, the numbers look even better: 30 lots made over $1 million; and of those, ten exceeded $5 million dollars.
The sale also set artist records for market darling Venice Biennale,
The evening got off to a mild-mannered start with four startling black-and-white photographs by
The pace accelerated with a large-scale 82 1/8-by-56 1/2-inch black ink and gesso drawing on two joined sheets of paper by
Another work on paper, but stylistically hailing from another world, Gagosian Gallery for £1.1 million, above the high estimate of £1 million, and came to £1.3 million with fees.
The price points quickly escalated with the third-party backed
The 60 1/2-by-61-inch work featured a menu-like array of words painted across the richly blue hued canvas in the artist’s distinctive spelling style, including “CHACKED CHICKEN WITH VRV MULTI FLAVORS.” It had last sold in 1990 at auction in Paris for the pre-Euro price of 600,000 French francs, or the equivalent of $118,261. It was first exhibited at Galerie Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich the year it was made.
The Basquiat was followed by the cover lot, an
Rendered by turn in hues of pink, pale blue, lilac, orange, green, and cobalt, the stark image of Warhol’s staring face under a fright wig seemingly portended his premature death after gallbladder surgery in 1987, the year following the work’s completion.
Backed this time by a Christie’s guarantee, it last sold for a tad higher than the $30.1 million it had fetched just a few years ago, at Sotheby’s New York in May 2014. That previous seller had acquired the work from the primary market exhibition, “Andy Warhol: Self-Portraits” from the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London in 1986, the artist’s last lifetime exhibition in London.
Another high-performing lot,
Fontana called these cuts in the canvas “the fourth dimension,” and the work sold Tuesday is pierced with the most cuts of any of his works, according to the catalogue entry. Like the Warhol sextet, it was backed by a Christie’s guarantee, meaning the seller was assured a minimum price to her or his liking, no matter what happened in the salesroom.
If the bidding didn’t reach that confidential price, Christie’s would take over ownership of the work and presumably sell it at another time. Luckily, they didn’t have to.
Alternatively, auction houses can outsource that in-house risk through so-called “third-party guarantees,” in which a backer outside the auction house agrees before the sale to bid a minimum price agreeable to the seller, in exchange for a financing fee from the auction house.
On the sculpture front,
On a significantly larger scale, Eykyn Maclean for almost three times its low estimate of £350,000.
Despite all the Brexit noise, this is London, and the sale tapped into a bit of U.K. pride with offerings from a smattering of British, Irish, and Scottish artists, including
Of the two
The work last sold in the Whitechapel charity auction at Sotheby’s London in October 2006 for £820,800, for which Doig had donated the work. Fortunately, the seller was paying it forward: Proceeds from Tuesday night’s sale will go to the seller’s charitable organization, The Donald R. Sobey Foundation.
Another offering from a native son, U.K.-bred Tate Britain), sold to a telephone bidder at its low estimate of £3 million, or £3.4 million with fees. The cool, early cityscape, California Bank (1964), is one of the artist’s first works painted during his inaugural visit to California. The state would go on to become a major inspiration to him and eventually his on-again, off-again home. It had last sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2000 for $324,750.
In sharp contrast to Pollock’s lusciously wild abstraction,
Of the few awkward glitches in the sale,
Later in the sale, auctioneer and Christie’s Global President Jussi Plykkänen, re-offered the lot, a first for a Christie’s evening sale, according to the house, and it sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for £400,000, or £488,750 with premiums. Christie’s said the ultimate buyer had lost the phone connection during the first round of bidding and pleaded for it to be re-offered.
On the artist-record front, Mark Bradford’s richly layered, large-scale multi-media collage on canvas, Bear running from the Shotgun (2014), sold to Abigail Asher of New York and Los Angeles-based Guggenheim Asher Associates, Inc. for £3.2 million (£3.8 million including buyer’s premium), surpassing its high estimate of £2.8 million. The underbidder for the 84-by-108-inch work was Melanie Clore of London’s Clore Wyndham Fine Art.
“We’re very excited, because it’s going to a collection where the new owner has a great social justice conscience, just like the artist,” said Asher as she raced out of the salesroom.
All prices reported include the hammer price (first) as well as the price including buyer premium fees (BP), which Christie’s calculates at 25 percent of the hammer price up to and including £175,000, 20 percent of that part of the hammer price over £175,000 and up to and including £3 million and 12.5 percent for anything above that.
The evening contemporary action resumes on Wednesday at Sotheby’s.