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Bacon Canvas Sets Pace at $81M Christie’s Contemporary Sale

Like Sotheby’s, Christie’s achieved a mid-estimate result for its Part One sale of postwar and contemporary art on Oct. 14, raising £39.8, million or $80.6 million (estimate: £33.9/46.5 million). The total was higher than at Sotheby’s owing to the comparatively large offering (110 lots), of which 94, or 85 percent, were sold.

LONDON—Like Sotheby’s, Christie’s achieved a mid-estimate result for its Part One sale of postwar and contemporary art on Oct. 14, raising £39.8, million or $80.6 million (estimate: £33.9/46.5 million). The total was higher than at Sotheby’s owing to the comparatively large offering (110 lots), of which 94, or 85 percent, were sold.

Christie’s also had the most valuable lot of the week, Francis Bacon’s Study from the Human Body: Man Turning on the Light, 1973-74, but it failed to electrify bidders, selling after just two bids for a premium-inclusive £8 million, or $16.4 million (estimate: £7/9 million).

Some clear warning signals about bullish estimates were sent out as five of the top-selling lots all fell at hammer prices on or below low estimates—among them Jeff Koons’ Small Vase of Flowers, 1991, which sold to dealer Jay Jopling for a premium-inclusive £1.59 million, or $3.2 million (estimate: £1.5/2.5 million). Two paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, with low estimates of £1.7 million and £2 million respectively, went unsold, as did two late Andy Warhol portraits with low estimates of £300,000 and £400,000.

Several artists saw prices take off, including Anish Kapoor; Thomas Schutte, whose sculpture United Enemies, 1994, was purchased by Jose Mugrabi for £300,500, or $608,000 (estimate: £150,000/200,000); Beatriz Milhazes, whose Laranjeira, 2002-03, sold to the Monsoon fashion-chain collection for £228,500, or $462,712 (estimate: £70,000/90,000); and Anselm Reyle, whose large Untitled, 2004, in acrylic and aluminum foil on canvas, made an extraordinary £311,700 ($631,192) against an £18,000/25,000 estimate. The price of Richard Prince’s nurse paintings continued to rise when his Wayward Nurse, 2005, (estimate: £400,000/500,000) sold for £1 million ($2.1 million).

The most solid-selling 1960s American art was provided by Robert Indiana, whose painting Three, 1965, fell to Italian dealer Giulio Tega for £216,500, or $438,412 (estimate: £120,000/180,000); and by small, late ’60s Ed Ruscha paintings that sold to dealer Larry Gagosian for £468,500 ($948,712) and £748,500 ($1.5 million), respectively.

Breaking records were Robert Longo, an artist market observers say is on the comeback trail, whose Untitled (Skull Island), 2005, fetched £192,500, or $389,800 (estimate: £60,000/80,000); and Olafur Eliasson, whose first major sculpture at auction, Fivefold Eye, 2000, went to Jopling for £748,500, or $1.5 million (estimate: £90,000/120,000).

Other buyers of western art included Micky Tiroche, who bought Jonathan Meese’s triptych Agamemnon’s Hähnchenbesteck, 2003, for a record £132,500, or $268,300 (estimate: £80,000/120,000); Helly Nahmad, who bought Damien Hirst’s Leprosy, 2003, from the “Cancer Chronicles” series, for £322,900, or $653,800 (estimate: £200,000/ 300,000—half the estimate of an unsold work from the same series at Phillips, de Pury & Company); art adviser Abigail Asher, who bought Jim Hodges’ delicate silver-chain installation From Above, 1993, for £252,500, or $511,312 (estimate: £150,000/200,000); Madame Georges Marci, who bought Thomas Struth’s Mailänder Dom (Fassade), 1998, for £412,500, or $835,300 (estimate: £200,000/300,000); London dealer Ben Brown who bought Ruscha’s Radioactive V, 1988, for £84,500, or $171,112 (estimate: £80,000/120,000); and U.S. dealer Tony Shafrazi, who won James Rosenquist’s small painting Barb Wire 1965, for £48,500, or $98,200 (estimate: £50,000/70,000) as well as Christopher Wool’s pattern painting on aluminum, Untitled (P.30), 1987, for £204,500, or $414,112 (estimate: £120,000/180,000); and Acquavella Galleries, which bought Rosenquist’s White Lightning, 1983, for £288,500, or $584,200 (estimate: £250,000/350,000).

The sale benefited substantially from the inclusion of contemporary design and Chinese art. In the design section, records tumbled for Shiro Kuramata, when her 1988 aluminum chair Miss Blanche sold for £156,500, or $316,900 (estimate: £30,000/50,000), against bidding from private dealer Daniella Luxembourg; for Scott Burton, whose Pair of Granite Chairs, 1985-87, went as well for £156,500, or $316,900 (estimate: £70,000/100,000), against bidding from David Nisinson; for Marc Newson, whose Lockheed Lounge LC-I, 1985, sold, if slightly disappointingly considering higher prices on the private market, for £748,500, or $1.5 million (estimate: £800,000/1.2 million); and for Ron Arad, whose steel Two Legs and a Table, 1996, earned £120,500, or $244,012 (estimate: £40,000/60,000).

The Chinese art, however, outperformed everything else, with ten paintings selling for £5.2 million ($10.5 million), some for five or six times above their estimates. Among the buyers here was London dealer Olivia Kwok, who bought Fang Lijun’s Untitled, 2001, for £692,500, or $1.4 million (estimate: £150,000/200,000), as well as underbidding another untitled 2001 painting by Fang from the same series that sold for £782,100, or $1.6 million (estimate: £150,000/200,000), and Madame Georges Marci, who bought Square, 2005, by Yin Zhaoyang, for a record £156,500, or $316,900 (estimate: £50,000/70,000).

Buying percentages at the sale differed radically from Sotheby’s, with the U.K. and Europe at a reduced 45 percent, U.S. at an increased 35 percent, and Asia at a whopping 17 percent, with the Middle East picking up just 3 percent.

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