ARTnewsletter Archive

London Auctions Approach Previous Peak

Contemporary art sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury & Company (Feb. 10-18), realized a total of £187.4 million ($303.6 million), the fourth highest for a series of contemporary art sales in London, following the three series from June 2007 to June 2008.

LONDON—Contemporary art sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury & Company (Feb. 10-18), realized a total of £187.4 million ($303.6 million), the fourth highest for a series of contemporary art sales in London, following the three series from June 2007 to June 2008. The total, which includes buyers’ premium, exceeded the combined pre-sale estimate for the seven sales of £111 million/158 million, and was a 51 percent increase on last February’s sales. It was also a 335 percent increase on February 2009.

Sotheby’s led the pack with assistance from the 100 percent sold Postwar art from the collection of the late, Geneva-based George Kostalitz which included Francis Bacon’s small-scale triptych, Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud, which, at £23 million ($37 million), was the highest price of the series (ANL, 2/22/11).

“We are close to the top of the market,” said Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s senior international specialist, after his part one sale on Feb. 15. By the end of its part two sale, Sotheby’s had taken £102 million ($161.3 million) for contemporary art including the Kostalitz sale—comfortably above the £78 million high estimate, and the third highest total for a contemporary art series by Sotheby’s in London after the February and June series of 2008.

Christie’s had no single-owner sale, but offered almost as many lots as Sotheby’s (288 compared to 296) to realize a total of £75.7 million ($122.6 million) compared to a presale estimate of £46 million/66 million. This was its fifth highest for a contemporary art series in London. Excluding Sotheby’s Kostalitz sale, Christie’s various owner sales achieved more than Sotheby’s, which gave grounds for satisfaction within the company.

Phillips achieved its fifth highest total for a sale series, though it is further off the peak than Sotheby’s or Christie’s. The sales were marked by restrained bidding for the market’s boom-time favorites, Jeff Koons and Richard Prince, a continued, measured revival in prices for Andy Warhol, and signs that the Damien Hirst market may be coming back to life. Prices for Gerhard Richter were strong throughout, and rarities of Postwar European art by Martial Raysse and Wols demonstrated how much depth there is to this market—reminiscent of last year with record prices for Zero group artists from the Lauffs collection (ANL, 2/22/08).

At the same time, the market has not stopped in its search for new stars, as evidenced by the record prices for Wade Guyton, Andrea Varejão and Ged Quinn.

The market also appears to have emerged from the downturn even more global than before. Christie’s estimated that buyers from 21 different countries registered to bid in its evening sale. Its top-selling Gerhard Richter alone had bidders from nine different countries.

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