When Christie’s decided to cancel its June evening sale of post-war and contemporary art in March 2017, it put out a full press release to explain the move. “The aim is to create two highly focused moments in the Post-War and Contemporary Art sales calendar that maximize London’s position at the crossroads of the world art market,” Pylkkänen said at the time, referring to the late winter sales and the October auctions during Frieze. After three years without an evening sale during this final week before the art market’s collective summer vacation season begins, this sale was less a chest-thumping return than a dipped toe to test the water. The top lots were ably sold—though we knew that would happen, as the Basquiat, Dubuffet, and Bacon all held guarantees—but the sale didn’t have the gravitas of an evening auction; at 34 lots, it seemed slight, especially compared to the 43-lot affair set to go down at Sotheby’s Wednesday night. But, it showed that London has a market willing to bid higher and higher for fresh-to-market work by on-the-rise women artists such as Self and Sillman.
“We managed to pull together exactly what the market wanted, which was effectively fresh material, things by young contemporary artists,” said Katharine Arnold, co-head of Christie’s post-war and contemporary art department in Europe, during the post-sale press conference.
The total towered over the tepid equivalent auction three years ago, and the brisk pace made for a sale that was less than an hour long—almost unprecedented for an evening auction. The atmosphere was summed up when Pylkkänen, hearing a glass hit the floor, said: “Somebody’s kicked over their gin and tonic!” This was a cocktail hour of a sale.
The June post-war and contemporary sales in London continue Wednesday with the day auction at Christie’s and the evening sale at Sotheby’s New Bond Street salesroom.