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    Selective Bidding at Sotheby’s Main Event

    Sotheby’s part one contemporary art sale on Oct. 13 fell short of its hammer-price estimate of £19 million/26 million, realizing £17.8 million ($28 million) including buyers’ premium, or £15.1 million ($23.7 million) at hammer prices.

    LONDON—Sotheby’s part one contemporary art sale on Oct. 13 fell short of its hammer-price estimate of £19 million/26 million, realizing £17.8 million ($28 million) including buyers’ premium, or £15.1 million ($23.7 million) at hammer prices. Of the 47 lots offered, a respectable 36 or 76.6 percent were sold, but more than half of those did so at hammer prices either on or below their low estimates. In short, there was competitive bidding for just 16 of the lots.

    Among the top-selling lots, Lucian Freud’s Boy’s Head, 1952, sold for £3.2 million ($5 million) against a £3 million/4 million estimate. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Spike, 1984, made a reasonable return for the vendor. Having been acquired at Sotheby’s New York in May 2004 for $534,000, it sold for £1.2 million ($1.9 million) to a U.S. collector, but the hammer price was below the £1.1 million/1.6 million estimate. Similarly, Andy Warhol’s small Mao, 1973, which had been bought by Spanish collector José-María Cano at Sotheby’s London in October 1999 for £89,500 ($147,675), sold to a different U.S. collector for £623,650 ($979,130), but that too was on a hammer price below the £600,000/1.2 million estimate. Also, an Asian buyer, bidding through Sotheby’s specialist Patti Wong, bought Marc Quinn’s gold cast sculpture of Kate Moss, Microcosmos (SIREN), 2008, for £577,250 ($908,245) on an estimate of £500,000/700,000.

    The only top-selling lots to excite bids above the low estimates were Freud’s early drawing, Untitled (Interior Drawing, the Owl), 1945, which sold for £517,250 ($813,841) against an estimate of £300,000/400,000, and Leon Kossoff’s A Street in Willesden, 1985, which sold to London dealer Pilar Ordovas, bidding for a private European collector, for a record £690,850 ($1.1 million) compared with an estimate of £350,000/450,000. The price places Kossoff closer to his fellow School of London painter, Frank Auerbach and indeed, outshone three Auerbach paintings at the auction. One, Head of Ruth Bromberg, 2001–2, sold to Marlborough Fine Art for £193,250 ($318,631) on an estimate of £180,000/250,000, while two more valuable works, J.Y.M. in the Studio II, 1963–64, estimated at £400,000/600,000, and Head of Helen Gillespie II, ca. 1963–64, estimated at £800,000/1.2 million, did not sell, though the latter was sold soon after the auction for an undisclosed price. The other major unsold lot was Peter Doig’s ski scene, Bellevarde, 1995, (estimate: £1.5 million/2 million) which had last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2001, before the market for Doig really took off, for $135,000.

    As at Phillips de Pury & Company (ANL, 10/18/11), Sotheby’s sale started on a more positive note, with Jacob Kassay’s silver deposit painting, Untitled, 2009, selling for £145,250 ($239,488), compared with an estimate of £50,000/70,000, and Antony Gormley’s small steel block figure, Unform VI, 2005, selling to Jonathan Binstock, a senior advisor at Citibank’s private bank, for £253,250 ($417,559) against an estimate of £150,000/200,000. However, the sale felt sluggish thereafter, with only a few exceptions, and was largely overshadowed by the action in the Italian art sale earlier on.

    A record was set when Wim Delvoye’s 19-foot Flatbed Trailer Scale Model… , 2004, sold for £229,250 ($377,987), but the hammer price was well below the estimate of £250,000/350,000. Richard Prince market watchers will have noticed the minute mark up—excluding commissions—on a Prince joke painting, Untitled, 2001, which was bought at Sotheby’s New York in November 2007 for $544,000 and sold, this time, for £421,250 ($662,795) on an estimate of £350,000/450,000.

    Similarly, a Damien Hirst spot painting, Naja Naja, 2000, previously sold at Christie’s New York in November 2004 for $209,000, but now sold for £169,000 ($266,000) against an estimate of £150,000/200,000.

    In spite of some weak spots, however, the total was still the third highest for a Sotheby’s October contemporary art sale in London.