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Top Lots Set Pace at Sotheby’s High-Octane Contemporary Sale

Sotheby’s auctionon Feb. 7 realized one of the highest totals for any sale of contemporary art in Europe to date when it fetched £45.8 million ($90 million) for 79-lots, even though 15 lots, or 19 percent, of them went unsold.

LONDON—Sotheby’s auctionon Feb. 7 realized one of the highest totals for any sale of contemporary art in Europe to date when it fetched £45.8 million ($90 million) for 79-lots, even though 15 lots, or 19 percent, of them went unsold.

All the top-estimated lots sold. The star of the sale was Peter Doig’s White Canoe, 1990-91—which Sotheby’s had recently acquired from collector Charles Saatchi, reportedly as part of an $11 million deal involving six Doig paintings. It sold for a record £5.7 million ($11.3 million) against an £800,000/1.2 million estimate. In Sotheby’s catalogue the oil on canvas was marked with a triangle, denoting that Sotheby’s had a financial interest in the work. (Originally the painting had fetched £2,000 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery before selling to Saatchi.)

The price places Doig above Lucian Freud and Gerhard Richter as the most expensive living European artist. Several bidders, including London consultant Susie Pollen, pushed the price to more than £2 million before it was taken on by two bidders. One was relaying bids through Sotheby’s Geneva representative Caroline Lang; the other, who eventually won out, has been identified as a private Georgian collector who was active at the Italian art sales in London last October.

The same anonymous Georgian collector went on to buy works by U.S. artists Alexander Calder, Robert Ryman and Tom Wesselmann, spending a total of £7.7 million ($15.2 million). Meanwhile, the underbidder on The White Canoe picked up a second Doig, French Landscape, 1993, for a much more reasonable £490,400, or $966,100 (estimate: £250,000/350,000).

Another major buyer was the Seomi Gallery ofSeoul, South Korea, which paid a record £2.8 million ($5.6 million) for a 1991 Richter oil, Abstraktes Bild; and £602,400 ($1.2 million) for a stainless-steel-and-lacquer sculpture, Blood Mirror, 2000, by Anish Kapoor (estimate: £250,000/350,000).

Seomi also outbid dealer Larry Gagosian on Andy Warhol’s 24-inch Flowers, 1964, paying £1 million, or $1.97 million (estimate: £400,000/600,000); Roy Lichtenstein’s Still Life with Oysters, Fish in a Bowl and Book, 1973, giving a mid-estimate £2.7 million ($5.3 million); and a late Willem de Kooning ribbon painting, Untitled, 1984, paying a below-estimate £916,000 ($1.8 million).

In all, 11 records were set. Among the top-selling lots was Frank Auerbach’s Camden Theatre in the Rain, 1977, which sold over the phone for £1.9 million ($3.8 million) against bidding from London dealers Richard Green and Julian Barran. Two years ago Auerbach’s record had yet to pass the £400,000 mark.

Another top seller was Andreas Gursky’s diptych 99 Cent II, 2001, which fell to the Regina Gallery, Moscow, for a record £1.7 million ($3.35 million), a new record for a photographic work at auction as well as a record for the artist. The Moscow gallery also picked up Ed Ruscha’s Here and Now, 1997, for a mid-estimate £636,000 ($1.25 million).

Several works from Saatchi’s collection were on the block. Tim Noble & Sue Webster’s Toxic Schizophrenia, 1997, sold for a record £356,000, or $701,000—generously topping the £250,000 high estimate—to Gagosian; and Jörg Immendorff’s All’s Well That Ends Well, 1983,made a record £288,000, or $567,000, above the £250,000 high estimate. In addition, the Marlene Dumas watercolor The Passion, 1994, bought in June 2004 by Saatchi for £77,700, took £228,000 ($449,160), flying past the high estimate of £120,000. However, Thomas Scheibitz’s Kromp, 1997, failed to sell (estimate: £70,000/100,000).

From different sources, new records were also set for George Condo (after the opening of his exhibit at London’s Simon Lee Gallery onFeb. 7), whose The Insane Cardinal, 2003, surpassed the £90,000 high estimate to bring £192,000 ($378,240); and for Albert Oehlen, whose Untitled (Yellow Cross), 1988, sold for £264,000, or $520,000 (estimate: £180,000/250,000).

Postwar European works were led by a pleated canvas, Achrome, 1959, by Piero Manzoni, for which a buyer paid a record £1.7 million, or $3.3 million (estimate: £1.5/2 million). Other records in this category were the £389,600, or $767,512 (estimate: £90,000/120,000), paid for Olivestone (Prototype), 1984, a sculpture by Joseph Beuys; and a soaring £916,000, or $1.8 million (estimate: £180,000/250,000), for Le Bon Marché I, 1961, by Jean Dubuffet—a record for a work on paper by the French artist.

But paintings by School of Paris artists Jean Fautrier, Antoni Tàpies and Serge Poliakoff went unsold. Among the contemporary lots that went unsold were works by Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara, as well as arecently auctioned painting by Martin Kippenberger. A second Kippenberger painting, Fusrückenzone von Martin Kippenberger, 1986, was picked up for £156,000, or $307,320 (estimate: £120,000/150,000), by Andrew Renton, curator of Britain’s Cranford Collection.

Other buyers in the room included: Gagosian, who won Lichtenstein’s LE, 1975, for £893,600, or $1.8 million, Warhol’s 40-inch square Self-Portrait (Fright Wig), 1986, for £1.5 million ($2.95 million), and an untitled, 1993 Richard Prince joke painting, against no competition, for £192,000, or $378,240 (estimate: £180,000/250,000); and London dealer Timothy Taylor,who bought Chris Ofili’s Strange Eyes, 2001, for £192,000 ($378,240).

The Sotheby’s buyer breakdown by lot was: U.S., 23%; Europe (including Russia), 45%; the U.K., 16%; and the rest, including Asia, 11%. About 8% of the lots were sold to new buyers, and 27% went to the trade—though “probably bidding for clients,” comments Sotheby’s, which was jubilant with a result that exceeded its presale high estimate.

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