ARTnewsletter Archive

Intense Competition Sparks Record Prices at Christie’s

Christie’s sent out a positive message for the contemporary art market with a £61.4 million ($99.2 million) sale on Feb. 16, comfortably in excess of its £33.5 million/51.8 million pre-sale estimate.

LONDON—Christie’s sent out a positive message for the contemporary art market with a £61.4 million ($99.2 million) sale on Feb. 16, comfortably in excess of its £33.5 million/51.8 million pre-sale estimate. Seven records were broken, and 58 or 92 percent of the 63 lots offered were sold, forty of which did so within or above estimates. The sale was the highest for a single contemporary art session in London since June 2008, though also the fifth highest for Christie’s London.

The geographical breakdown bore a striking similarity to Sotheby’s—51 percent Europe and UK (including Russia), 40 percent Americas and 9 percent Asia. Emphasizing the global demand, Christie’s calculated that 160 clients from 21 countries had registered to bid by phone.

The top lot was Andy Warhol’s rediscovered six-foot Self-Portrait, 1967, which had never been exhibited or reproduced before. Unsigned, and with a minor condition problem, it had been acquired through the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1974 by an anonymous American buyer, who passed away recently. The estimate of £3 million/5 million was considered quite tame given that, of the ten previously known works in this series, five were in museums, while others reside in the Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart, the Beyeler Foundation, Basel, and in the private collections of Stefan Edlis and the widow of Joseph Pulitzer.

The last to be auctioned was at Christie’s in May 2004, selling to an anonymous European buyer for $6.95 million. Since then, the Warhol market has moved on, and a 22-inch version of this self-portrait sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2009 for $6.15 million to London jeweller, Laurence Graff. Three bidders pursued the rediscovered painting above its high estimate, before it finally sold to Larry Gagosian, bidding against Jose Mugrabi, for £10.8 million ($17.4 million).

Less predictable was the record £4.1 million ($6.6 million) paid for L’année dernière à Capri (titre exotique), 1962, an example of French pop art, by Martial Raysse. Raysse’s work has mostly been sold in Paris, but in 2007, he was feted with a mini retrospective by Francois Pinault in the Palazzo Grassi for the Venice Biennale, and the following year broke the £1 million mark at a sale at Sotheby’s in London. Estimated at £1 million/1.5 million, the work sold after much competition to New York based private dealer Christoper Eykyn.

Other top prices came for a modestly sized Abstraktes Bild, 1990, by Gerhard Richter which sold to Sandra Nedvestkaia, one of Christie’s Russian-speaking specialists, for £3.2 million ($5.1 million), compared with an estimate of £1 million/1.5 million, a handsome return for the seller who bought it at Christie’s London in June 2005, for £657,600 ($1.2 million); Jeff Koons’s Winter Bears, 1988, which was bid up by Gagosian before selling to a phone bidder for a somewhat disappointing £2.9 million ($4.8 million), compared with an estimate of £2.5 million/3.5 million, though the price represents a ten-fold increase in the eleven years since another version from the edition was last sold; and Lucio Fontana’s gold Concetto Spaziale, 1961, which made a more modest increase since it was last sold by publisher, Louise McBain in May 2006 for $2.7 million, now selling to Swiss based collector Dimitri Mavromatis, for £2.7 million ($4.4 million), on an estimate of £2 million/3 million.

One feature of the sale was the strength of prices for Spanish artists. Three works by Eduardo Chillida all exceeded estimates. A two-dimensional clay and copper work, Mural G-46, 1984, which had gone unsold when last offered in 2004, sold for £505,250 ($816,484), on an estimate of £300,000/400,000, to a phone bidder against dealer David Juda, the artist’s estate representative in London. A small steel sculpture, Eulogy of the Void V, 1984, had four bidders over the high estimate and sold for £881,250 ($1.4 million), compared with an estimate of £350,000/450,000. The sculpture was being sold by the estate of American collector Frank K. Ribelin who, five years ago, had successfully objected when the Metropolitan Museum of Art had attempted to deaccession a sculpture by Chillida at Sotheby’s New York without consulting him. The top price, and the second highest on record for Chillida, was given for the larger alabaster work, How Profound is the Air XX, 1998, which sold for £1.4 million ($2.3 million), against an estimate of £600,000/800,000.

Two paintings by Miquel Barceló similarly exceeded estimates with his bullfight painting, Tres equis, 1990, doubling the £520,000 ($842,400) price it made at Sotheby’s London in February 2003, to sell for a record £1.3 million ($2.1 million), compared with an estimate of £400,000/600,000. The two Barcelós were bought by the same telephone bidder who Christie’s said, as an indication of the global nature of the market, was not Spanish.

British artists were also among the record breakers. Jenny Saville’s early monumental nude, Branded, 1992, which had been sold by Charles Saatchi in June 2001 for what was then a record £337,750 ($472,850), now sold for £1.5 million ($2.4 million), compared with an estimate of £700,000/1 million, against bidding from Gagosian.

Ged Quinn Prices Make a Comeback

After a truly tumultuous bout of prices for his paintings last October, Ged Quinn saw a new record £193,250 ($312,292), against an estimate of £40,000/60,000, paid for his 2005 landscape, Gone to Yours.

With no paintings by School of London artists such as Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach or Francis Bacon—who are typically a mainstay of these sales—the emphasis was more on younger contemporaries. A fragmented stainless steel figure by Antony Gormley, Domain LX, 2006, sold to his dealers, White Cube, for £181,250 ($292,900), on an estimate of £180,000/220,000; Glenn Brown’s Suffer Well, 2007, underbid by Gagosian, sold for £657,250 ($1.1 million), on an estimate of £500,000/700,000, to Nedvestkaia, who was bidding with the same paddle number that she used to buy the Richter; while Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s light bulb sculpture Excessive Sensual Indulgence, 1996, was snapped up by dealer Harry Blain, for £49,250 ($79,588), compared with an estimate of £70,000/100,000, against no competition.

The market for Damien Hirst showed signs of revival as a large spot painting, Arginine Decarboxylase, 1994, was underbid by Jose Mugrabi before selling over the phone for £881,250, ($1.4 million), compared with an estimate of £400,000/600,000, a slight improvement on a similar sized spot painting sold at Phillips de Pury & Company in London, June 2008, that was sold for £825,000 ($1.3 million). A spin and skull painting, Beautiful God is Dead Long Live God Painting, 2005, sold to a Norwegian collector bidding against Mugrabi, for a top price of £421,250 ($680,740), compared with an estimate of £250,000/350,000; and a six-part butterfly painting, Caprica 6, 2008, sold at Sotheby’s Hirst sale in September 2008 (ANL, 9/30/08) for £301,250 ($488,025), sold for £361,250 ($585,225), compared with an estimate of £250,000/350,000. Most re-offers from that sale have hitherto fetched far less than the original prices.

Saatchi sales were sparse in comparison to last October. Jake & Dinos Chapman’s sculpture Two Faced Cunt, 1995, which was exhibited in Saatchi’s “Sensation” exhibition in 1997, trounced estimates to sell for £91,250 ($147,825), compared with an estimate of £20,000/30,000, but Ahmed Alsoudani’s large Untitled, 2008, a painting of an imploding Saddam Hussein, had been entered with a highly optimistic £200,000/300,000 estimate, based on only one previous auction sale which realized a multiple-estimate £289,000 ($468,180) at Sotheby’s last October. The result was a sale at hammer price below the estimate to fetch £217,250 ($351,945)—a healthy profit nonetheless for Saatchi who would have bought the painting when Alsoudani’s primary market prices for large paintings were no more than £40,000.

Bidding War for Wade Guyton

American art peppered the sale, with Wade Guyton proving in hot demand with a record £187,250 ($303,345), compared with an estimate of £50,000/70,000 for the inkjet painting Untitled (Yellow U), 2005, paid by a phone bidder against London dealer Ivor Braka.

Gagosian snapped up Richard Prince’s painting Untitled (with de Kooning), 2006, for £457,250 ($738,916), compared with an estimate of £500,000/700,000, as well as Cindy Sherman’s clown c-print, Untitled (#424), 2004, for £193,250 ($312,292), compared with an estimate of £120,000/180,000); and Jose Mugrabi was the unlikely winner of Richard Lindner’s Marilyn was Here, 1967, for £385,250 ($622,564), compared with an estimate of £140,000/160,000. He was also keeping the late Warhol market afloat underbidding on Mick Jagger, ca. 1975, which sold for £881,250 ($1.4 million), on an estimate of £550,000/750,000—a modest increase on the £792,000 ($1.3 million) the painting had fetched at Sotheby’s London in June 2006—and Ladies and Gentlemen, 1975, which sold for £457,250 ($738,916), on an estimate of £300,000/500,000.

Buyers of German art included Ivor Braka, who bought Anselm Kiefer’s huge Athanor, 1991, for £959,650 ($1.5 million), on an estimate of £800,000/1.2 million, a healthy increase on the $800,000 the painting fetched at Sotheby’s New York in May 2005; Daniella Luxembourg, who bought Martin Kippenberger’s cartoon appropriation, Untitled, 1990, for £713,250 ($1.1 million), compared with an estimate of £600,000/800,000; and Paolo Vedovi, who snapped up Sigmar Polke’s 2002 fabric painting, Untitled, for £205,250 ($331,684), compared with an estimate of £200,000/300,000.

The high spot towards the end of the sale came with Brazilian artist, Adriana Varejão’s Wall with Incisions a la Fontana II, 2001, which soared past its estimate to fetch a record £1.1 million ($1.8 million), on an estimate of £200,000/300,000—a record also for a living Brazilian artist.