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Hirst Pill Cabinet Swallows $19M At Sotheby’s Contemporary Sale

Sotheby’s offered far fewer lots (72) than Christie’s in its evening contemporary art sale, but posted a similar total, selling all but six of the works offered for £72.4 million ($144 million)—£15 million ($29.85 million) over the presale high estimate.

LONDON—Sotheby’s offered far fewer lots (72) than Christie’s in its evening contemporary art sale, but posted a similar total, selling all but six of the works offered for £72.4 million ($144 million)—£15 million ($29.85 million) over the presale high estimate.

The highlight of the sale was Damien Hirst’s pill cabinet Lullaby Spring, 2002 (estimate: £3/4 million), which created an auction record for a living artist when it went to an anonymous buyer for £9.6 million ($19.2 million).

Bidding from the floor came from dealers Doris Ammann, William Acquavella and Larry Gagosian. But from £6 million ($11.94 million) on, it was a two-horse race between a couple of determined phone bidders. The price eclipsed the record $17.4 million for a living artist set in May for Jasper Johns’ Figure 4, 1959 (ANL, 5/29/07). After the sale, Hirst’s accountant Frank Dunphy, who had been on his cellphone to the artist, said that Hirst was “flabbergasted.” Dunphy himself had expected the work to rise to about $10/12 million.

Auctioneer and Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art Tobias Meyer said that contributory factors included the $100 million asking price for Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull For the Love of God, on show at White Cube gallery, and the recent $17 million paid privately by hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen for Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog.

The top price of the sale, however, came after another breathtaking bidding battle in which a U.S. collector triumphed to take Francis Bacon’s 1978 Self Portrait (estimate: £8/12 million) for £21.6 million ($43 million)—the second-highest price for the artist. Among the bidders for this work was London jeweler Laurence Graff, who pulled out at £10.4 million ($20.7 million).

The sale had gotten off to a racing start, with five lots that were being sold for the National Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). Donations came from Tracey Emin, whose neon Keep Me Safe, 2006 (estimate: £15,000/20,000), sold for £60,000 ($119,400)—a record for the artist in that medium; Keith Tyson, whose Nature Painting, 2007 (estimate: £80,000/120,000), was underbid by his dealer Harry Blain, of Haunch of Venison, but still fetched a record £216,000 ($430,000); and Hirst, whose circular spin/butterfly painting Beautiful Explosion of Vanity Painting, 2007 (estimate: £250,000/350,000), brought a winning £1.1 million ($2.2 million), from his dealer Jay Jopling.

A few lots later, another record for a young British artist fell when London dealer Richard Nagy paid £490,000 ($975,100) for Glenn Brown’s The Rebel, 2001 (estimate: £200,000/300,000). Another work, Orange Sunshine, 1995-96 (estimate: £600,000/800,000), one of the group of paintings by Peter Doig that Sotheby’s had bought from Charles Saatchi, sold for £1.8 million ($3.6 million) to a European collector bidding against Jopling.

Completing a trio of high prices, Hirst’s dot painting Hypovase Prazosin Hydrochloride, 1992 (estimate: £500,000/700,000), fell to Blain for £748,000 ($1.5 million).

With no works by young American artists in sight, the spotlight fell on Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol—and not everything was rosy. Lichtenstein’s 1977 Figures in a Landscape was picked up for less than its £1 million low estimate by Gagosian for £972,000 ($1.9 million). And, again, the late Warhol market looked fragile. The artist’s large Dollar Sign, 1981 (estimate: £1.8/2.5 million), apparently in poor condition; his small Mao, 1973 (estimate: £600,000/800,000); and the earlier 5 Deaths, 1963 (estimate: £1.2/1.8 million), all failed to sell.

One Warhol Work in Top Ten

Only Warhol’s 30 Coloured Maos (Reversal Series), 1980 (estimate: £1/1.5 million), made it into the top-ten list, selling for £1.2 million ($2.5 million) to an Indian collector. However his Gun, 1981, bucked the trend when it flew way over the £220,000/280,000 estimate, selling to Acquavella Galleries for £714,000 ($1.4 million).

Basquiat prices, in comparison, looked steady and saw some big gains. Warrior, 1082 (estimate: £1.5/2.5 million), last sold to art adviser Hugues Joffre in 2005 for $1.8 million, went to a U.S. collector against Acquavella for £2.8 million ($5.6 million). A large, 1987 untitled painting of a car (estimate: £900,000/1.2 million) sold to a phone bidder against Ghar Ivanishvili for £1.25 million. Ivanishvili, whom Sotheby’s described as a private European collector, is the nephew of Georgian mining magnate Boris Ivanishvili, who is said to be building an art museum in Kiev. A 1985 Basquiat, Portrait of Jon (estimate: £700,000/900,000), went to the Mugrabi family for £714,000 ($1.4 million).

Record for Fontana

Postwar European works performed strongly, as at Christie’s, with a record price for Lucio Fontana, whose Concetto Spaziale, Attese, 1965—last sold for £166,000 in 1997—now earned £2.5 million ($4.9 million) from a U.S. collector. Manolo Millares’ Cuadro 77, 1959, brought in £378,000, or $752,200 (estimate: £200,000/300,000).

Two Gerhard Richter paintings also made it into the top ten, with Teyde-Landschaft, 1971, selling to Hauser & Wirth for £2.6 million, or $5.2 million (estimate: £1.4/1.8 million); and his abstract Chair, 1985 (estimate: £1.4/1.8 million), falling to an Asian buyer for £2.1 million ($1.4 million).

Sotheby’s has been selective with photography, but two prices stood out. Andreas Gursky’s Hong Kong, Shanghai Bank, 1994 (estimate: £180,000/250,000), was sold to Jopling for £356,000 ($708,400); and Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Diana, Princess of Wales, 1999 (estimate: £50,000/70,000), was acquired by Portuguese dealer Victor Pires-Vieira for £144,000 ($287,000).

The sale ended with a group of Chinese paintings that pummeled their estimates. Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodlines, 1998 (estimate: £150,000/200,000), sold to London dealer Olivia Kwok for £378,400 ($753,100); and Yue Minjun’s The Pope, 1997 (estimate: £700,000/900,000), set a new record for a contemporary Chinese work, bringing £2.1 million ($4.2 million).

Saatchi again was among the sellers, with Patrick Caulfield’s Les demoiselles d’Avignon vues de derriere (estimate: £250,000/350,000), which sold for £412,000 ($819,880); and Dirk Skreber’s Untitled, 2003 (estimate: £100,000/150,000), which made £144,000 ($286,500).

Other buyers in the room included: London dealer Timothy Prus, who picked up Joseph Beuys Sleeping Head over Inductor, 1954 (estimate: £80,000/120,000) for £132,000 ($262,700); and the Nahmad family, which acquired two works by Fontana—a pink, slashed Concetto Spaziale, Attese, 1966 (estimate: £180,000/250,000), for £311,200 ($619,300); and a blue slashed Concetto Spaziale, Attese, 1967 (estimate: £400,000/600,000), for £412,000 ($819,800).

Sotheby’s noted afterward that while four of the top ten lots to U.S. buyers, they accounted for only 25% of the total; U.K. buyers, 30%; ret of Europe, 32%; and Asia, 13%.

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