ARTnewsletter Archive

Cutting-Edge Art Thrives at London Sales

The London October auction series was divided as usual between contemporary art and 20th-century Italian art.

LONDON—The London October auction series was divided as usual between contemporary art and 20th-century Italian art. The contemporary art at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury & Company, including three day sales, brought £58.3million ($93.3million) against an estimate of £49million/69million, and two 20th-century Italian sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s brought £35.8million ($57.3million) against an estimate of £27million/38million. The combined total of £94.1million ($150.6 million) was the third-highest ever for an October series in London, coming close to the £99.9million ($172.8million) realized in October 2008. It was almost exactly double the £47.4million ($75.8million) realized in October 2009, even though the number of lots offered had only increased to 799 from 729. The sell-through rate also stayed steady at roughly 79 percent of lots.

Traditionally of lower value than London’s February and June sales, the October contemporary art sales are aimed at younger buyers and, in direct competition with the Frieze Art Fair, as close as possible to the primary market. This is perfect terrain for a collector like Charles Saatchi, who buys and sells quickly. In these sales some 28 works were identifiable at the three auction houses as coming direct from the Saatchi Collection. Whereas Saatchi used to try to sell discreetly, without mention of his name in the catalogue, now he is allowing Saatchi Gallery exhibition details to be published in the catalogues.

Francis Outred, Christie’s head of contemporary art for Europe, said he believes the Saatchi provenance helps to sell the work because the collector has such a pervasive influence on taste and on the market. Of the 28 works in this series, 19 were sold, and six made record prices. The total realized for the Saatchi lots was £3.3million ($5.3million), which was not a large percentage of the total take, but it was an important factor in the auction market for new art produced in the past five years.

Generally, though, the more blue-chip Italian art carried the heavier weight financially. The average price per lot in the Italian sales was £542,000 ($867,200), compared with nearer £100,000 ($160,000) per lot for contemporary. This was also the ­largest-selling Italian-art series, beating the £29.9million total of October 2007.