Sotheby’s reported its biggest grossing contemporary sale in Europe ever. Phillips doubled its total from last year. Meanwhile, a slightly less exuberant Christie’s sat squarely in the middle of its overall pre-sale estimate ($148.9 million, compared to an estimated $128.2–182.3 million).
Among the perennial hyperbole, however, was the news that Sotheby’s didn’t manage to sell its top lot on July 1st, ’s Study for a Pope I
(1961). A day earlier, four pieces by
—whose work set a record for a sale by a living European artist in February—also failed to change hands at Christie’s. That such high-performing artists didn’t attract purchasers suggests that some buyers’ collections may be saturated, or that the art on offer was less eye-catching than the market expected, having been flooded with top-quality work due to aggressive guarantees given
for the New York season in May.
“Sometimes the market likes more dazzling pictures,” said Edmond Francey, head of the department of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s, about the unsold Richters. “Maybe the market likes more decorative work, though I don’t like that word. Maybe the estimates were a bit high. We are little surprised as well.”
What, then, were the key pieces last week that did move, and why were they so compelling for collectors to acquire? Here, the most important lots from the London auction season, focusing on last week’s contemporary sales.