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Buyers Say Yes to Realistic Prices at Christie’s

Christie’s realized £45.6 million ($68.6 million) including commissions for its evening sale on June 30, in which 52, or 84 percent, of the 62 lots offered were sold.

LONDON—Christie’s realized £45.6 million ($68.6 million) including commissions for its evening sale on June 30, in which 52, or 84 percent, of the 62 lots offered were sold. The performance, nearly identical to Sotheby’s June 28 sale, yielded a hammer total of £38 million ($57 million), just below the £41 million/58 million estimate, but it felt livelier, with a higher percentage of works (68.7 percent, compared with 55 percent at Sotheby’s) selling within or above estimates.

Certainly department head Francis Outred had gambled that, with only one guaranteed work, the quality he was handling would meet the expectations of the sellers, even if, at times, those expectations were higher than he would have liked. He also accepted works by a higher number of artists ­below age 50 for the evening sale than Sotheby’s (19, as against 7), which also paid off—with six record prices realized.

American art dominated the top lots, though it rarely passed the low estimates by much. Andy Warhol’s Silver Liz, 1963, consigned after a double-panel Silver Liz sold for $18.3 million in New York in May, sold on a hammer bid at the low estimate (£6 million) to realize £6.8 million ($10.2 million) to a phone bidder against Jose Mugrabi. Selling on a hammer bid below the low estimate was a 14-inch Flowers, 1964, by Warhol, for which Mugrabi appeared to be the only bidder, securing it for £713,250 ($1.1 million) against an estimate of £700,000/1 million. The painting had previously sold at Sotheby’s London in February 2008 for £580,500 ($1.15 million) against a £300,000/400,000 estimate—an example of how estimates generally have gone up farther than actual prices realized.

Selling well, though, was Roy Lichtenstein’s late Collage for Nude with Red Shirt, 1995, which drew £2.7 million ($4.1 million) against an estimate of £600,000/800,000 from a European collector on the phone. Also among the top sellers were two Alexander Calder sculptures—Two Fish Tails, 1975, sold for £1.4 million ($2.2 million) compared with a £1.2 million/1.8 million estimate, and Black and Yellow Dots in the Air, 1960, which sold for £1.4 million ($2 million) on a £1 million/1.5 million estimate—both to London dealer Ezra Nahmad. The second work had been acquired by a European collector at Sotheby’s New York in November 2007 for $1.4 million.

A record for a Jeff Koons painting was established when Loopy, 1999, was sold to Larry Gagosian for £3.4 million ($5.1 million), against an Asian underbidder (estimate: £2.5 million/3.5 million). Gagosian was also the buyer of Maurizio Cattelan’s sculpture of two upside-down New York City policemen, Frank and Jamie, 2002, which caused such a stir when first shown at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York in 2002. When last at auction, at Christie’s New York in May 2005, this example from the edition of three was unsold, with a $1.4 million/1.8 million estimate, but fetched £1.03 million ($1.56 million) this time, on a lower estimate of £500,000/700,000.

The major unsold work was a six-foot portrait head, Untitled, 1982, by Jean-Michel Basquiat that had been bought for £453,250 ($824,462) at Christie’s London in June 2004 by the Mugrabi family, but attracted no bids with a £2.5 million/3.5 million estimate.

European Postwar results were distinguished largely by a record £1.8 million ($2.8 million) for a brightly colored Mappa, 1989, by Alighiero Boetti, which sold to the U.S. trade over the phone (estimate: £900,000/1.2 million). Works from the 1960s by Michelangelo Pistoletto proved in high demand, with the stainless-steel painting Cristina che passa (Cristina Passing By), 1968, selling for £313,250 ($469,875) on a £100,000/150,000 estimate to a German phone bidder against Brussels dealer Mimmo Vedovi in the room. Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Attese, 1965, was claimed by the Nahmad family, who took the slashed red painting for £1.2 million ($1.8 million) on a £600,000/800,000 estimate.

School of London painters were not as well represented as they were at Sotheby’s. An early Lucian Freud drawing, Ada, 1948, sold to dealer Nicholas Maclean for £229,250 ($469,875) compared with a £60,000/80,000 estimate, but observers said a large Frank Auerbach landscape, In the Studio, 2000-02, that had recently been on the market privately and not sold, was not as good as the example at Sotheby’s and was passed over (estimate: £1 million/1.5 million). However, Sean Scully’s 1985 abstract One Yellow sold for a record £769,250 ($1.15 million) against one of the highest-ever estimates for his work, £600,000/800,000, which followed a sellout show at the Timothy Taylor Gallery, London.

YBAs Strike a Chord With Collectors

Christie’s found a focus on the younger generation of Young British Artists promoted by Charles Saatchi in the 1990s. Three works had been shown at the “Sensation” exhibition in 1997, and two made record prices. Glenn Brown’s Dalí-Christ, 1992, benefiting from Gagosian sales of new work in the $1 million/2 million bracket, sold for £1.4 million ($2.2 million) to a U.S. collector, sweeping past Brown’s highest-ever estimate at auction, £700,000/1 million. The work was being sold by the Fine Art Fund, a London-based investment group. The same collector also paid a record £241,250 ($361,875) for Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Übermensch, 1995, bidding only against the reserve and what many thought to be an over-optimistic estimate of £250,000/350,000. The sale represented the biggest markup at the auctions, the work having been sold by Saatchi at Christie’s London in December 1998 to U.K. collector Nick Silver for £10,350 ($18,800). In a late saleroom notice, Christie’s stated that the buyer at the 1998 auction was not the seller this time, as had been printed in the catalogue. Also falling to the same collector was Chris Ofili’s Orgena, 1998, which, though not in “Sensation,” was one of the artist’s Turner Prize–winning exhibits in 1998. It sold for a record £1.9 million ($2.8 million) compared with an estimate of £700,000/1 million, marking a further upward trajectory for Ofili’s prices since his retrospective at Tate Britain earlier this year.

Other works from the Saatchi collection in this sale included Jules de Balincourt’s US World Studies II, 2005, which fetched a record £277,250 ($417,000) compared with an estimate of £40,000/60,000 from a phone bidder against advisers Dickinson Roundell.

Matthew Day Jackson maintained his recent auction impetus as his mixed-media panel Phoenix (Peace Eagle), 2005, sold for £301,250 ($451,875), though here, Christie’s had the measure of demand with a £200,000/300,000 estimate. The buyer was bidding through Christie’s former Chinese specialist Jen Jin Low, leading some observers to believe the work is destined for Asia.

Bidding in the room also came from Marlborough Fine Art founder Gilbert Lloyd, who bought Paula Rego’s Deposition, 2000, against Bona Montague, director of contemporary art at Dickinson Roundell, for £289,250 ($433,875) compared with an estimate of £180,000/250,000, and from Thaddeus Ropac of Paris and Salzburg, who bought Georg Baselitz’s Picture 29, 1994, for £457,250 ($685,875) on an estimate of £350,000/450,000.

Buyers at the sale divided geographically into 58 percent from Europe, 30 percent, the Americas, 4 percent Asia, and 5 percent “other.”

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