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Bidding ‘Was Like Fireworks’ For 20th-Century Italian Art

On Oct. 16 Sotheby’s and Christie’s held sales devoted to 20th-century Italian art.

LONDON—On Oct. 16 Sotheby’s and Christie’s held sales devoted to 20th-century Italian art.

Sotheby’s went first with an £11.5 million ($21.7 million) auction, its highest total for such a sale to date and well in excess of the presale high estimate of £9.5 million. Fifty five, or 95 percent, of the lots were sold—67 percent of them above their presale high estimates.

Of these, 12 set auction records: Alighiero Boetti’s embroidered picture Tutto, 1988-89, realized £568,000 ($1 million) from a private buyer (estimate: £400,000/600,000). Luciano Fabro’s sculpture Italia Carta Stradale, 1969, took £489,600 ($925,000) from a private buyer (estimate: £180,000/250,000).

And Afro’s 1957 abstract painting Golfo degli Aranci sold for £467,200 ($882,600), also to a private buyer (estimate: £280,000/350,000). Among the other artists to set new highs were Tancredi (£164,800 or $311,500); Fausto Melotti (£159,200 or $300,890), Salvatore Scarpitta (£366,400 or $692,500) and Giuseppe Penone (£220,800 or $417,300).

Sotheby’s specialist Isabelle Paagman told ARTnewsletter that buyers were mostly European collectors, though there was interest from Americans. “The Frieze Art Fair has certainly had an impact on these sales,” she said. “The room was completely packed and the bidding was like fireworks.”

Christie’s, however, went one better with a £15.6 million sale ($29 million)—the highest total for any Italian sale in London. Sixty-one, or 87 percent, of lots were sold, and six auction records were broken.

The top price came for Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Attese, 1963, an all-white horizontal canvas, with seven slashes or cuts, which fetched a record £2.1 million ($3.9 million) from a private U.K. buyer (estimate: £500,000/800,000). Fontana’s work claimed five of the top-selling lots, with the higher priced works doubling and trebling estimates.

Christie’s also claimed a record for Boetti’s Mappa, 1989, which sold for £478,400 or

$886, 953 (estimate: £450,000/550,000), though it had obviously not yet registered the price achieved at Sotheby’s only three hours earlier.

Other records to fall at Christie’s were for Giulio Paolini (£243,200 or $450,900); Pietro Cosagra (£66,000 or $122,300); Mattia Moreni (£72,000 or $133,500); and Francesco Vezzoli (£96,000 or $178,000).

Among other top lots was the £904,000 or $1.7 million paid by a private buyer for Mobili Nella Valle, 1927, an oil on canvas by Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978). The price was near the low end of the £900,000/1.3 million estimate.

After the sale Mariolina Bassetti, the specialist in charge, commented, “Interest in Italian art has never been stronger.”