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Contemporary Art Sales Exceed Expectations at Sotheby’s

With £43.7 million ($70 million) safely tucked away from the Postwar and contemporary art sold from the George Kostalitz sale a week earlier (ANL, 2/22/11), Sotheby’s opened a week of contemporary art sales in London on Feb. 15 with a £44.4 million ($71 million) part one sale from various owners in which 54, or 91.5

LONDON—With £43.7 million ($70 million) safely tucked away from the Postwar and contemporary art sold from the George Kostalitz sale a week earlier (ANL, 2/22/11), Sotheby’s opened a week of contemporary art sales in London on Feb. 15 with a £44.4 million ($71 million) part one sale from various owners in which 54, or 91.5 percent, of the 59 lots offered were sold. The total, which includes buyers’ premium, just exceeded the presale estimate, which excludes the premium, of £30.4 million/48.7 million. The upbeat result saw 38 of the sold lots fetch hammer prices within or above estimates and 16 lots take prices below estimate.

Claiming top price of the sale was a large abstract painting by Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, 1990, which was bought for a client by Sotheby’s chairman of Asia, Patti Wong, speaking Chinese over the telephone, for £7.2 million ($11.5 million), on an estimate of £5 million/7 million, against Gagosian Gallery’s Russian-speaking director, Victoria Gelfand.

Further top lots were Andy Warhol’s Nine Multicoloured Marilyns (Reversal Series), 1979-86, which sold to a phone bidder against dealer David Nahmad, for £3.2 million ($5.1 million), compared with an estimate of £2 million/3 million—a price that did not match the £4.1 million ($8.1 million) fetched at Christie’s London in June 2008 for a work from the same series—and an outstanding record £3.1 million ($4.9 million) given by German art consultant Helge Achenbach, for Juan Muñoz’s unique large bronze Conversation Piece, 1993, (estimate: £600,000/800,000).

Achenbach was also in the running for a rare-to-the-market photorealist portrait, Luciano I, 1976, by Swiss artist Franz Gertsch, which was entered for sale by the Stiftung Neues Museum Weserburg, Bremen, Germany, and sold to a private European phone bidder for a record £1.5 million ($2.4 million) on an estimate of £500,000/700,000.

The main unsold lot was Chris Ofili’s glittery but pale The Naked Spirit of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars, 2001-2, sent for sale by Miami collector Craig Robins, and carrying an estimate of £600,000/800,000. But British art still featured in four of the top-selling lots. David Hockney’s Hotel L’Arbois, Sainte-Maxime, 1968, sold for £1.3 million ($2.1 million), on an estimate of £1 million/1.5 million, to London dealer Alan Hobart—a healthy increase on the $968,000 the painting fetched at Sotheby’s New York in May 2005.

Much to the evident delight of his dealer, Larry Gagosian, Glenn Brown’s Declining Nude, 2006, from the collection of Marcel Brient, sold to a private U.S. phone bidder against bidding from Wong, just short of a record for £1.3 million ($2 million), on an estimate of £600,000/800,000.

Frank Auerbach’s landscape, To the Studios IV, 1983, sold to Lebanese financier, Samir Treboulsi, for £959,650 ($1.5 million), compared with an estimate of £900,000/1.2 million, while an earlier, smaller Auerbach, Head of Gerda Boehm II, 1963, sold to a phone bidder against Pilar Ordovas of the Gagosian gallery for the same price, compared with an estimate of £500,000/700,000.

Apart from the Gertsch, the only other record was for Gary Hume’s, large Water Painting (Lilac), 1998, which sold to his dealers, White Cube, for £241,250 ($386,410) against an estimate of £80,000/120,000.

Other buyers at the sale were New York dealer Per Skarstedt, who bought Cindy Sherman’s c- print, Untitled #87, 1981, for £577,250 ($925,037), against an estimate of £400,000/600,000; Bona Montagu of Dickinson/Roundell, who bought Willem de Kooning’s oil on paper, East Hampton II, 1968, for £493,250 ($790,428), on an estimate of £500,000/700,000; and London dealer Ivor Braka, who bought Bridget Riley’s Persephone I, 1969, for £881,250 ($1.4 million) against an estimate of £600,000/800,000.

Larry Gagosian bought Christopher Wool’s small ink painting, Fear, 1990, for £133,250 ($213,532), compared with an estimate of £60,000/80,000.

Although not in contention for the top lots, Jose Mugrabi was busy as usual buying two Warhols at hammer prices near the low end of the estimate or below—a 22-inch Jackie, 1963, for £469,250 ($751,968) on an estimate of £400,000/600,000 including premium, and the small Four Dollar Signs, ca. 1981, for £713,250 ($1.1 million), compared with an estimate of £600,000/800,000—as well as Tom Wesselmann’s Landscape #1, 1964, which he again snagged with a hammer bid below estimate for £445,250 ($713,509), on an estimate of £400,000/600,000.

Warhols were generally bringing good returns, if not quite as high as at the peak of 2007/08. A Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup Box, 1986, to cite one of the better examples, fetched $228,000 at Christie’s New York in November 2005, and now sold to an Asian buyer for £445,250 ($713,509).

But one of the biggest increases of the sale was realized for Neo Rauch’s 1998 canvas, Produktion, which sold in May 2002 at Phillips de Pury & Company, for $134,500 to London dealer Timothy Taylor, and this time brought £657,250 ($1.05 million), against an estimate of £400,000/600,000 to register a capital growth rate of 26 percent per annum.

The only work by a Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei’s Kui Hua Zi, 2010, a 100-kilogram pile of ceramic sunflower seeds, was the subject of intense interest, partly because of its relationship to the artist’s much larger sunflower seed installation currently on view at Tate Modern, and also because the seeds were said by Sotheby’s to be priced by weight and that this had been the first in an edition of ten variants, having been sold the previous year by Copenhagen dealer Jens Farschou. Flipped within a matter of months, it was estimated at £80,000/120,000, but sold for £349,250 ($559,394) after a three-way bidding contest, to a telephone bid from Sotheby’s Paris expert, Gregoire Billault.

Bidding was characteristically global and evenly spread geographically with 51 percent of lots sold to Europe and the UK (including Russia); 28 percent to the Americas; 11 percent to Asia; and 10 percent to other regions.

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