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Fontana Works Star At Sotheby’s Season Opener

Sotheby’s opened the fall series on Oct. 16, with a sale of 20th-century Italian art in which 30 out of 33 lots were sold, bringing in a total of £7.4 million ($12 million), just below the high estimate.

LONDON—Sotheby’s opened the fall series on Oct. 16, with a sale of 20th-century Italian art in which 30 out of 33 lots were sold, bringing in a total of £7.4 million ($12 million), just below the high estimate.

Among the top-selling lots were Lucio Fon­tana’s red slashed canvas Concetto Spaziale Attese, 1966, which sold to New York art adviser Abigail Asher for £457,250 ($744,312) against a £300,000/400,000 estimate.

The artist’s white, punctured canvas Concetto Spaziale, 1961, sold to London dealer Ben Brown for £385,250 ($627,110) against an estimate of £350,000/450,000. Lingotto, 1969, a classic arte povera work made from metal tubes, wood, wax and twigs by Mario Merz, sold to art adviser Hugues Joffre for £121,250 ($197,637) on a £100,000/150,000 estimate, which turned out to be the bargain of the sale.

Competitive Bidding for Contemporary Works

Sotheby’s dispensed with a part-one evening sale in favor of a long session of mid-to-lower-value contemporary art, including 46 works of Middle Eastern contemporary art, that followed immediately after the Italian sale. That session grossed a further £12.8 million ($20.8 million), in the middle of the £10 million/14 million estimate. Of the 217 lots, 159, or 73 percent, were sold.

The more valuable lots were placed in the first half of the sale. These included Chris Ofili’s Afro Apparition, 2002–3, which sold for £577,250 ($939,648) on a £280,000/350,000 estimate (a record in sterling, but not in dollars) to U.K. collectors Eskander and Fatima Maleki; Damien Hirst’s circular butterfly painting Retribution, 2006, which sold to dealer Jose Mugrabi for £541,250 ($881,047) on a £450,000/650,000 estimate; and Gerhard Richter’s small Abstract Painting, 1990, which sold to New York adviser David Nisinson for £529,250 ($862,670) on an estimate of £500,000/700,000.

As ever, Mugrabi was in the running for several lots, underbidding for works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Hirst, and Spanish conceptual artist José María Cano. Basquiat’s large Fuego Flores, 1983, brought the highest price of the sale, going to a private Asian buyer for £959,650 ($1.6 million), within the estimate of £800,000/1.2 million.

The painting had been the subject of a lawsuit filed by Swedish collector Gerard De Geer against the Basquiat Authentication Committee and dealers Carl Flach and Stellan Holm, in which De Geer argued that the committee had arbitrarily refused to rule on the work’s authenticity. The suit was settled last December, after the committee ruled the work was an authentic Basquiat on the basis of additional information provided by De Geer (ANL, 12/23/08). It was “accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Authentication Committee of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” according to Sotheby’s catalogue.

Mugrabi also bid on Hirst’s painting Two Skulls, 2006, which sold to a private U.S. buyer for £433,250 ($706,200) against an estimate of £220,000/280,000, and helped Cano’s painting Queen Elizabeth II, 2008, on its way to the final price of £61,250 ($99,837), an auction record for the artist (estimate: £30,000/50,000).

Works by Andy Warhol were in relatively short supply, with just three on offer. The top price for a work by the artist was £301,250 ($491,037), paid for the portrait Joseph Beuys, 1980, by White Cube, London (estimate: £200,000/300,000).

Anselm Kiefer was much in demand, as two works by the artist flew over their estimates. En sof, 2006, sold to U.S. adviser Leslie Rankow for £289,250 ($471,500) against an estimate of £150,000/200,000. A small early landscape, Für Eva: Herbst im Odenwald, 1980, sold to a phone buyer for £205,250 ($334,560) against an estimate of £60,000/80,000, underbid by Paris and Salzburg dealer Thaddaeus Ropac. Ropac was more successful in acquiring Deleuze Kneeling Down, 2006—the better of two works by Erwin Wurm on offer. One of an edition of six, it sold for £25,000 ($40,750) against an estimate of £12,000/15,000. He also acquired Untitled (Doppelportrait), 1966, an early drawing by Georg Baselitz, for £37,250 ($60,700) against an estimate of £30,000/40,000.

Munich collector Ingvild Goetz, who was in London for the Frieze Art Fair, made a rare appearance in a saleroom, buying Ducks at Rest, 1983, an early painted polyurethane sculpture by Peter Fischli & David Weiss, for £85,250 ($139,000), within the estimate of £70,000/90,000. Goetz also bought Melody, 2002/3, a large collage by Tal R, for £73,250 ($119,400) also within the estimate of £60,000/80,000.

The Tal R work was one of several offered at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips de Pury & Company from the Saatchi Collection. Another Saatchi work at Sotheby’s was Florian Maier-Aichen’s Cibachrome Above June Lake, 2005, which sold to Stefan Ratibor of the Gagosian Gallery for £70,850 ($115,500), against an estimate of £60,000/80,000. Ratibor was, however, left trailing in the competition over a rare-to-­auction example of painting by British artist Hurvin Anderson. Untitled (Beach Scene), 2003, was the first large canvas by the artist to appear at auction, having been bought at a show at the David Risley Gallery, London, in 2004 for less than £10,000. At that time Charles Saatchi had inquired about buying works from the show, but it had already sold out. At this Sotheby’s sale it was estimated at £20,000/30,000, in line with current retail prices, but it was bid up by Ratibor, U.K. collector Peter Simon, and Saatchi, who was bidding through an agent in the room. The painting finally sold to Saatchi for a record £97,250 ($158,500).

In a large section devoted to Middle Eastern contemporary art, Sotheby’s sold 30 out of 46 works, or 65 percent, bringing a total of £1.2 million ($2 million), comfortably within the estimate. The top lot was Cowboy and Indian, 2007, a diptych by Farhad Moshiri, which sold to a private collector for £397,250 ($647,500) against an estimate of £150,000/200,000.

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