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    International Demand Drives Robust Contemporary Sales

    Contemporary art sales in London at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Phillips de Pury & Company (Feb. 13–16) pulled in a healthy total of £182.9 million ($287.2 million), compared with the £187.4 million ($303.6 million) achieved last February (ANL, 3/8/11).

    LONDON—Contemporary art sales in London at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Phillips de Pury & Company (Feb. 13–16) pulled in a healthy total of £182.9 million ($287.2 million), compared with the £187.4 million ($303.6 million) achieved last February (ANL, 3/8/11). As ARTnewsletter was published, Phillips was holding a final day sale on Feb. 17 that had an estimate of £3.4 million/4.8 million.

    The current total marks another solid series that points to the thriving and increasingly global demand for contemporary art. Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s chair of contemporary art, Europe, said: “We witnessed a huge depth of international bidding right across the auction, with buyers coming from no fewer than 20 countries.”

    And experts noted that, at least so far, fears about the impact of the expanded droit de suite—the artist resale royalty, which, as of the start of the year in the UK, was applied to sales of works by artists deceased 70 years or less—appeared to have no impact on consignments.

    Christie’s was the leader by far, posting £100.5 million ($157.7 million) for four sales in the week. Taking into account the £9.6 million ($15.1 million) that Christie’s private collection Postwar offerings achieved in the previous week, the house’s total was £109.5 million ($172 million).

    Francis Outred, Christie’s head of Postwar and contemporary art, Europe, said the £80.6 million evening sale was “the second-highest total in these rooms for the category, only surpassed by the June 2008 auction at the height of the market (£86.2 million).”

    Sotheby’s realized £66.1 million ($103.7 million), for its evening and day sales, and Phillips achieved £5.7 million ($8.97 million) in its evening sale on Feb. 16. The Bonhams sale, at the start of the week, realized £1 million ($1.6 million).

    Christie’s Results Approach Previous Market Peak

    Christie’s came in with a very healthy £80.6 million ($126.5 million) sale on Feb. 14, which was at the top end of its presale estimate of £56 million/84 million, by selling 58, or 89 percent, of the 65 lots offered, including all but one of its ten-highest estimated lots. Christie’s also seemed to have measured the market well with only nine lots selling for hammer prices below estimates. Of the 16 lots that sold above estimate, only one did so by as much as double. So, it was a measured performance by buyers as well.

    The top lot was a large Francis Bacon painting, Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, 1963, sent for sale by New York real estate developer Sheldon Solow, who had sold the record-breaking works by Henry Moore and Joan Miró the week before at Christie’s (ANL, 2/14/11). It was won by an anonymous phone bidder (though Christie’s did rule out that the buyer was either from Russia or the Middle East) for £21.3 million ($33.4 million), compared with an estimate of £15 million/20 million. A less vintage Bacon, two small Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne, 1983, sold for £1.7 million ($2.7 million), below the £1.8 million/2.5 million estimate and also below the £1.8 million ($2.8 million) they had fetched at Sotheby’s London in October 2007.

    Other School of London works were also on offer. An early Lucian Freud drawing, Boat, Connemara, 1948, was a fine rediscovered work and carried a soft £200,000/300,000 estimate. The piece sold to dealer Stephen Ongpin for a more realistic £657,250 ($1 million). A small Freud painting, Small Figure, 1983–84, brought a good return for the seller, who bought it at Sotheby’s London in June 2006 for £122,500 ($220,500), as it sold to Nicholas Acquavella of New York’s Acquavella Galleries for £1.6 million ($2.5 million) on an estimate of £1.5 million/2 million. A single painting by Frank Auerbach, Catherine Lampert Seated, 1990, sold to Gilbert Lloyd of Marlborough Fine Art for £409,250 ($642,520) on an estimate of £300,000/400,000.

    The sale saw the first of many Gerhard Richters, mostly colorful abstracts, that flooded onto the London market following the very high prices realized in New York last November (ANL, 11/15/11). A small Abstraktes Bild, 1994, received multiple bids, including some from Paris and Salzburg dealer Thaddeus Ropac, before selling to a phone bidder for £993,250 ($1.6 million), compared with an estimate of £400,000/600,000.

    The largest abstract—though still half the size of the top sellers in New York—also entitled Abstraktes Bild, 1994, sold to an anonymous buyer, bidding through Christie’s New York-based specialist Andy Massad, for £9.9 million ($15.5 million) on an estimate of £5 million/7 million.

    Meanwhile, a small, gray monochrome abstract by Richter met with diminished enthusiasm (less colorful abstracts are less sought after) as it sold for £385,250 ($604,840), against an estimate of £350,000/450,000. In comparison, the painting sold for £300,500 ($586,000) at Christie’s London in February 2008.

    Ropac was outbid on Georg Baselitz’s early upside-down painting, Finger Painting – Birch Trees, 1972, which sold for £847,650 ($1.3 million), compared with an estimate of £400,000/600,000, but was more successful bidding for Anselm Kiefer’s large oil and woodcut, Der Rhein, ca. 1982, which he bought for £313,250 ($491,800), against an estimate of £300,000/400,000. Another dealer active in the German market was Paul Schönewald, who bought Ernst Wilhelm Nay’s Of Gold and Blue, 1953, below its £100,000/150,000 estimate for £94,850 ($148,915).

    American art played a much lesser role than it usually does in New York salerooms. The stand out result was for Christopher Wool’s large, word painting, Fool, 1990, which sold for a record £4.9 million ($7.7 million), compared with an estimate of £2.5 million/3.5 million, to a private European buyer, who also picked up an early, colored photographic work by Gilbert and George, Bloody Life No. 13, 1975. Estimated at £700,000/1 million, the piece sold for £1.3 million ($2 million), the second-highest price for the artist duo.

    Jeff Koons was represented with a small piece titled Jim Beam – Baggage Car, no. 1, 1986, from an edition of which no. 3 had sold at Sotheby’s London in June 2010 for £634,550 ($951,800). However, no. 1 sold for just £457,250 ($717,880), against its estimate of £350,000/450,000, after underbidding by Larry Gagosian.

    A small, Andy Warhol Self-Portrait, 1986, which had cost $1.1 million at Christie’s New York in May 2009, saw a slight gain as it sold for £1.3 million ($2 million), while an even smaller Dollar Sign, 1981, sold above estimate, after underbidding from Jose Mugrabi, for £385,250 ($604,840), compared with an estimate of £180,000/250,000.

    Two, small Alexander Calder stabiles sold well. Small White Discs, 1953, sold to Acquavella for £1.5 million ($2.4 million), against an estimate of £700,000/1 million, and Yellow Horns, 1967, sold for £1.3 million ($2 million), against an estimate of £500,000/700,000, to London-based dealer Helly Nahmad.

    Nahmad played an active role in the Postwar European market, which was led by Nicolas de Staël’s colorful landscape, Agrigente, 1953. With underbidding from Nahmad, the painting, estimated at £3.5 million/5 million, sailed to £5.3 million ($8.3 million)—the second-highest price for the artist. Nahmad was also an underbidder on the top Lucio Fontana of the sale: a red, slashed monochrome titled Concetto spaziale Attese, 1967, which sold for £2 million ($3.2 million), against an estimate of £900,000/1.2 million. A gray slashed Fontana, Concetto Spaziale, 1962, sold to Jose Mugrabi for £601,250 ($943,960), on an estimate of £600,000/900,000. Mugrabi also underbid the top Yves Klein of the evening: the blue ANT 40, ca. 1961, which sold for £1.8 million ($2.8 million), compared with an estimate of £1.2 million/1.8 million.

    There were a few examples of some losses among the older works on offer. A 1947 oil, The Sun Discolors Them, by Jean Dubuffet, had been bought for $1.3 million at Christie’s New York in November 2003 and sold, against bidding from Nahmad, for £541,000 ($849,000), compared with an estimate of £400,000/600,000. Meanwhile, Ed Ruscha’s Ship Talk, 1988, which was from the same European collection as the record-breaking Wool and the Warhol self-portrait (all of which carried third party guarantees), had been bought at Christie’s New York in November 2007 for $1.8 million and sold here for £769,000 ($1.2 million).

    Probably the biggest markups came for the younger artists, bought to the primary market by Charles Saatchi. Here, Ahmed Alsoudani’s Baghdad II, 2008, sold for £541,250 ($849,760), on an estimate of £250,000/350,000; Berlinde de Bruyckere’s K36 (The Black Horse), 2003, sold for a record £325,250 ($510,640), on an estimate of £200,000/300,000; and Thomas Houseago’s Figure 2, 2008, sold for a record £157,250 ($246,880), on an estimate of £100,000/150,000.