ARTnewsletter Archive

Christie’s Bet on Big-Ticket Works Pays Off at $23M Postwar Sale

Christie's took in £19.6 million ($31.4 million) in its evening sale of Postwar and contemporary art on Oct. 14, comfortably within the £15.9 million/22.7 million estimate, selling 44, or 86 percent, of the 51 lots offered.

LONDON—Christie’s took in £19.6million ($31.4million) in its evening sale of Postwar and contemporary art on Oct. 14, comfortably within the £15.9million/22.7million estimate, selling 44, or 86 percent, of the 51 lots offered. The result was an improvement over last October’s slimmed-down £11.2million ($18.3 million) sale, which had just 25 lots on offer, and on par with that of its October 2006 £19.1million ($34.3million) sale, which offered 122 lots. The considerable increase in the average lot price since then is due to Christie’s policy of offering higher-value lots in its October sales.

Leading these was Damien Hirst’s massive butterfly painting I am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds, 2006, estimated at £2.5mil­lion/3.5million. The only other comparable work by Hirst had sold for £4.7million ($9.4million) at Phillips de Pury & Company in London in October 2007 against the same estimate—but that was before the market downturn. The estimate here was seen by many as a reckless gamble, but Christie’s received at least one telephone bid, which allowed them to sell the work for a below-estimate £2.2million ($3.5million).

Other high-priced lots were Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Negro Period, 1986, which had last sold in June 2006 for £1.1million ($2million) at Christie’s London. It sold now, to dealer Daniella Luxembourg, for £1.5 million ($2.4 million) against an estimate of £1.2million/1.8million). Takashi Murakami’s Kaikai Kiki, 2005, a pair of Japanese toy–like guardian figures—from an edition that is also on view at the Murakami show in the Chateau de Versailles in Paris—also sold to Luxembourg for £1.9million ($3.1million) against an estimate of £400,000/600,000.

The only other work to exceed its estimate by so much was the first lot, The Saints Go Marching to All the Popular Tunes, 2007, by British artist Ged Quinn. It was only the second work by Quinn, who has had three consecutive sellout shows at London’s Wilkinson Gallery since 2005, to appear at auction, and the first at Christie’s. Estimated at £20,000/30,000, it attracted a number of bids, eventually selling for £109,250 ($174,800) to London dealer Ivor Braka, bidding against a representative of Charles Saatchi, who already has several works by Quinn in his collection.

Saatchi was again among the sellers, having consigned three works from his recent shows of American contemporary art: Jules de Balincourt’s The People that Play and the People that Pay, 2004, sold for £217,250 ($347,600), more than double the estimate of £70,000/100,000; Mark Bradford’s Kryptonite, 2006, sold for £337,250 ($539,600) on an estimate of £200,000/300,000; and Kelley Walker’s large triptych Black Star Press (rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise); Black Star, Black Press, Star Press, 2006, sold for £385,250 ($616,400), an auction record for the artist, even though the price was far short of what observers said was an eyebrow-raising £500,000/700,000 estimate.

Liza Lou’s The Vessel, 2006, also helped set the pace for art of the last decade. Consigned from another source, the beaded fiberglass sculpture sold for a record £289,250 ($463,089) on a £120,000/180,000 estimate to an unidentified buyer, against bidding from Paris and Salzburg dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, who was about to show Lou’s latest work at FIAC (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain) in Paris (see story, page 6).

The other sellers included the liquidators of the Lehman Brothers collection, who held back New York, Stock Exchange, 1991, an Andreas Gursky C-print that had hung in Lehman’s London offices, for this sale. It sold for £433,250 ($693,200), double the estimate of £100,000/150,000. Rock guitarist Eric Clapton was weeding out his collection of works by Gerhard Richter, selling the modestly sized (393⁄8 ” square) Abstraktes Bild, 1981, for £690,850 ($1.1million), near the low end of the estimate of £600,000/800,000.

Postwar art was less dominant than in the major sales, and was led by a dark Nature morte en gris, 1955, by Nicolas de Staël, which sold to the Nahmad family of art dealers for £937,250 ($1.5million) on an estimate of £1million/1.5million. The Nahmads also bought Jean Dubuffet’s Homme au beret, 1959, from the same unnamed European collection as the de Staël, for £409,250 ($654,800) on an estimate of £300,000/400,000.

Three records were set for more historic Postwar works. Otto Piene’s gold leaf painting Goldgold, 1959–65, riding the recent demand for Zero Group artists, sold for £337,250 ($539,600) against an estimate of £150,000/200,000. Roman Opalka’s triptych Opalka 1965/I, part of his lifelong series of paintings of consecutive numbers, sold for £802,850 ($1.3million) against an estimate of £400,000/600,000. Austrian Action artist Hermann Nitsch’s large ballpoint-pen drawing The Last Supper, 1976–79, also from the Saatchi Collection, sold for £91,250 ($146,000) against an estimate of £50,000/70,000—a record in both euro and dollar terms.

Although the sale total hit the middle of the overall estimate, individual estimates were still a concern as 17 lots, including the Hirst, sold at hammer prices below estimate.