The London sales continued with a strong £39.6 million ($52.8 million) total at the Christie’s postwar and contemporary evening sale, projecting more confidence following Tuesday’s successful contemporary sale at Sotheby’s—all despite the economic uncertainty caused by England’s vote last week to exit the European Union. With a sell-through-rate of 92 percent by lot and 97 percent by value, fears of a crippled auction season following Brexit seem to be abating. Like the sale at Sotheby’s Tuesday, the total edged past its high estimate, silencing the doomsayers.
Highlights included two works by Jean-Michel Basquiat that easily sailed past their high estimates, continuing the artist’s hot streak at auction, sparked by the record $53.7 million sale of a giant untitled work at Christie’s New York last month. Both of tonight’s Basquiats came from the collection of actor Johnny Depp, and seven more Basquiats from his collection will be on the block during tomorrow’s day sale.
(It’s unclear if the timing of this big off-loading is related to the dissolution of Depp’s marriage and recent legal troubles. His wife Amber Heard filed for divorce last month and requested a restraining order after claiming that Depp beat her on numerous occasions, providing photo evidence of her bruises. The sales were reportedly planned months ago.)
The one truly troubling moment came before the sale, when Christie’s global chairman Jussi Pylkkanen announced that Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (811-2), 1994, had been withdrawn from the sale. The Richter had been on the cover of the catalog, and reports had its presale estimate at $14 million, making it the only eight-figure lot in the sale. There’s no word on why the lot was withdrawn, but it’s possible that the consignor got spooked by the economic turmoil and tumbling value of the pound, and yanked it.
That currency’s weakened state may account for the healthy amount of phone bidding from outside of Europe, with collectors looking to take advantage of their foreign currency’s comparative strength against the pound. Like at the Sotheby’s sale Tuesday, Asian bidding seemed especially prominent—the same collector on the phone with Elaine Kwok, Christie’s director of education Asia, picked up two lots: the Depp Basquiat Pork (1981), for £5.1 million ($6.8 million), and the Adrian Ghenie Lidless Eye (2015), for £842,500 ($1.1 million).
There was a slow start, as the room passed on Glenn Ligon’s I Sell the Shadow to Sustain the Substance just four lots into the sale, and a lackluster vibe in the room caused Pylkkanen to complain, “Lots of talking here, not so much bidding.” But things picked up by the time the first of the two Basquiats, Self-Portrait (1981), hit the block and faced ten bidders on the telephones and several in the room.
“Be brave,” Pylkkanen advised the room, and then the bids went flying, with the top price passed between a few specialists and paddle-wielders until someone in the room snagged the work for £3.4 million ($4.7 million).
After the final lot sold, applause broke out in the King Street sale room. The London sales continue Thursday with the Defining British Art Evening Sale at Christie’s.