Christie’s evening auction of post-war and contemporary art in London on Wednesday saw two new artist records set and a knockout result for Andy Warhol’s 1977 portrait of Muhammad Ali, but brought in a disappointing total. Warhol’s rendering of the beloved boxer punched past its low estimate of £3 million ($3.8 million) to sell for a hammer price of £4.2 million ($5.4 million), or £4.9 million ($6.3 million) with fees, making it the top lot of the night. Overall, the sale garnered £56.1 million ($72.6 million) with fees, a steep drop from last year’s equivalent sale, which brought in £79.2 million ($104.3 million), bolstered by the sale of a famous David Hockney double portrait painting for £37.7 million ($49.5 million).
At this year’s auction, only one work—an On Kawara canvas—failed to find a buyer, and two more works were withdrawn before the sale, making for a 98 percent sell-through rate by lot.
Warhol’s Muhammad Ali went for £4.9 million ($6.3 million) with fees. The work was one of 10 portraits sold at Wednesday night’s auction from the Pop artist’s “Athletes” series, which features sports legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Chris Evert; Christie’s also offered a Muhammad Ali portrait from the series at its November evening auction in New York last year, which sold for $10 million. All of the “Athletes” works come from the collection of the late collector Richard L. Weisman.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’sThe Mosque (1982) failed to meet its low estimate of £4 million ($5.1 million) hammering down at £3.6 million ($4.6 million), or £3.9 million ($5 million) with fees. The buyer, aided by Evelyn Lin, head of Christie’s Asian 20th century and contemporary art department, logged the winning bid on Cecily Brown’sGirl Trouble (1999), which came to £1.4 million ($1.8 million) with fees. Interest in Basquiat was tepid at the sale in general: An untitled Basquiat work sold immediately after The Mosque hammered down at its low estimate of £500,000 ($646,000) with a single bid, coming to £611,000 ($790,000) after fees.
Hockney’s Walnut Trees (2006), a charming exploration of the Yorkshire countryside, sold for a hammer price of £2.7 million ($3.4 million), or £3.2 million ($4.1 million) with fees. Hockney had been the star of the previous night’s Sotheby’s auction, where his painting The Splash (1966) sold for £23.1 million ($29.8 million).
The Christie’s auction set new records for Jordan Casteel and Günther Förg. Casteel’s Mom (2013) opened the sale, shooting past its high estimate of £250,000 ($323,000) and hammering down at £420,000 ($543,000), coming to £515,250 (about $666,000) with fees. The late German abstractionist Förg achieved a new auction high with an untitled work from 2007, which sold for £1.3 million ($1.6 million) after fees. Although Förg has become a regular at auctions, at least one attendee at Christie's was overjoyed about the sale: After auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen brought the hammer down, someone in the room, presumably the buyer, exclaimed: “Yipee!”
The works of other young contemporary artists also achieved impressive results. Casteel’s sale “was followed by strong competition for works by a group of artists currently on view at the Whitechapel Gallery—Dana Schutz, Tschabalala Self, and Cecily Brown, who are pushing the direction of painting in the 21st century—redefining figurative painting,” Cristian Albu, co-head of Christie’s post-war and contemporary art in Europe, said in a statement. The aforementioned artists are featured in the group exhibition “Radical Figures.”
London’s auctions continue on Thursday with Christie’s post-war and contemporary art day auction and Phillips’s 20th century and contemporary art evening sale.