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Sotheby’s Doubles Volume at Upbeat Contemporary Sale

Sotheby's opened its evening sale of contemporary art on Oct. 15 with 39 lots, of which 35, or 90 percent, sold (the highest sell-through rate of the week) to bring in a total of £13.2 million ($21.2 million).

LONDON—Sotheby’s opened its evening sale of contemporary art on Oct. 15 with 39 lots, of which 35, or 90 percent, sold (the highest sell-through rate of the week) to bring in a total of £13.2million ($21.2million). Last October, Sotheby’s avoided the exposure of an evening sale with a wrap-up day of part-one and part-two sales along with a sale of contemporary Middle Eastern art (ANL, 11/3/09), which produced a total of £12.8million ($20.8million). The three comparable sales this year totaled £26.1mil­lion ($41.8million), more than double last year’s total.

The top lot was a large Andy Warhol Diamond Dust Shoes, 1980, which sold for £1.6million ($2.5million) to Alan Hobart of Pyms Gallery, London, bidding on behalf of a client against art adviser Edmund Peel (estimate: £1.3mil­lion/1.6million). The price was a record for a work from that series. Another Warhol, a 24-inch Flowers painting, 1965, sold to a European collector for £825,250 ($1.3million) on a £650,000/850,000 estimate. Several 24-inch Flowers paintings fetched prices over $2million in the market peak of 2007.

Andreas Gursky’s large C-print Pyongyang IV, 2007, held up better in comparison with prices from the market peak, taking £1.3million ($2.1million) on a £500,000/700,000 estimate. An example from the same edition sold for $1.4million at Sotheby’s “Red” sale in New York in February 2008.

Some top lots had come from the collection of model Jerry Hall. Observers said that Frank Auerbach’s Head of Helen Gillespie IV, 1965, was a fine example of the work of the School of London painter. Auerbach’s prices have been on a roll recently, and this work sold to a U.S. collector for £1.1million ($1.7million) on an estimate of £700,000/900,000. Eight Months Gone, 1997, a tiny nude portrait of a pregnant Hall by Lucian Freud, sold to a European collector for £601,250 ($963,202) on an estimate of £300,000/400,000. The same European collector also bought Quinces, 1944, a small, much earlier Freud still life from Hall’s collection, for £313,250 ($501,353) on an estimate of £150,000/200,000 against competition from London dealer James Holland-Hibbert. Hall had bought the work at Sotheby’s London in July 1998 for £62,000 ($99,200).

Quinn Painting Sparks Heated Bidding

As at Christie’s, the sale started off at a crackling pace with a painting by Ged Quinn—Jonestown Radio, 2004–5. The painting would have cost £20,000 ($36,000) from Quinn’s dealer, Wilkinson Gallery, London, at the time it was painted, and was estimated here at £20,000/30,000. Four bidders, including dealer Ivor Braka, drove the painting up to £100,000, and it finally sold to a an Asian buyer for a record £187,250 ($300,000).

Two works from the Saatchi Collection made a splash early in the sale, beginning with Untitled, 2007, a depiction of the looting of the Baghdad Museum by Berlin-based Iraqi artist Ahmed Alsoudani. Estimated at £70,000/90,000, the painting sold for £289,250 ($463,000). This was the first appearance at auction of a work by Alsoudani, though an exhibition at Art Dubai last year by New York dealer Robert Goff showed there was market interest, as it sold out to Middle Eastern collectors at prices up to $65,000 each. Alsoudani will represent Iraq at the Venice Biennale next year.

Another lot from the Saatchi Collection was Mark Bradford’s White Painting, 2009. With Bradford’s first European exhibition opening at White Cube gallery that week and with everything in the show reserved for museum collections at around $400,000 for the large paintings, Sotheby’s had estimated White Painting at a record £300,000/500,000. It sold to White Cube for £361,250 ($578,200) without much of the expected competition.

Other American works from the Saatchi Collection were Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (Orange Butterfly Green MG 03), 2003—which sold to dealers Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, for £301,250 ($482,200) on an estimate of £350,000/450,000—and Wangechi Mutu’s Untitled, 2004, which sold for £61,250 ($98,000), within the estimate of £50,000/70,000.

Of ten lots offered at various auctions by British duo Tim Noble and Sue Webster this year, seven went unsold. Their lightbulb sculpture $, 2001, had last sold in October 2006 at Phillips de Pury & Company in London for £187,200 to U.K. collectors Eskander and Fatima Maleki. They recouped most of that investment, as the work sold to a phone bidder for £181,250 ($337,000) against an estimate of £100,000/150,000. A lesser return was gained for Banksy’s Pledge Alliance to the Flag, 2008, which had been bought in March 2008 for £120,000 ($240,000) by London dealer Steve Lazarides in a fund-raising auction for London mayor Ken Livingstone’s reelection campaign. This time around the oil on canvas fetched £82,250 ($131,640) against an estimate of £60,000/80,000.

Another work to seemingly have lost value since the boom was Piotr Uklanski’s photographic assemblage The Nazis, 1998. Some of the editions of ten have been split up, so the complete set of 164 photographs is quite rare. The last example to sell fetched £568,000 ($1million) at Phillips in October 2006. Christie’s lot sold for £481,250 ($770,236) on an estimate of £400,000/600,000.

Records were set for works by Francesco Vezzoli—whose 21-piece Colette Embroidered Gigi, 2000, sold for £217,250 ($347,706) against an estimate of £120,000/180,000—and by Albert Oehlen, whose large, colorful abstraction Untitled, 1990, sold for £313,250 ($501,353) against an estimate of £250,000/350,000.

The bargain of the sale was probably Alexander Calder’s painted metal mobile Enseign de Lunettes, 1976, which sold to London and Tel Aviv dealer Micky Tiroche for £385,250 ($616,590), missing its estimate of £400,000/600,000.

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