With many galleries closed on Monday, and other institutions with their doors shut due to Rosh Hashanah, I used my first hours off the plane in London checking out one place that would surely be open for business: Christie’s on King Street, the global headquarters of the auction house since 1823. And it would be open for business because, well, there’s just too much art to be sold to keep collectors out.
And yet by the time I arrived, there was much more action at The Golden Lion, an old King Street pub, than in front of Christie’s. (Though, granted, it was after 5 p.m. Where else is there to be early in the evening on the Monday of Frieze?) Those not downing pints were in the showrooms, where works from the Italian Sale and the postwar and contemporary sale—which take place October 6 and 7, respectively—were hung in the anterooms on the bottom floor and throughout the more grand spaces on the second floor.
Much of the space was given over to the private collection of Leslie Waddington, which Christie’s will auction off Tuesday night. The legendary London dealer, who died last December, had amassed a varied and impressive collection, his catholic tastes informing his purchases just as they informed what he chose to sell. On display here was a rare Francis Picabia, Lampe (1923)—estimated to go for between £800,000 and £1.5 million, or $1.03 million and $1.94 million—which had previously been in the collection of fashion designer Jacques Doucet, who famously bought Les Demoiselles d’Avignon from Picasso’s studio. There is a huge, gorgeous Calder for £2 million to £3 million ($2.59 million to $3.89 million, and it’s flanked by three small Josef Albers Homage to the Square works, all in different colors. Then there are some left turns, like a Michael Craig-Martin (sorry, that’s Sir Michael Craig-Martin) work that might be snapped up for as low as $25,000. There’s also a portrait of Leslie Waddington, a very affectionate portrait, by Peter Blake (sorry, that’s Sir Peter Blake).
Collectors and other art hangers-on seemed to love the preview, and hung around until well after the supposed closing time of 7 p.m. One American collector was apparently so taken with a work in the Italian Sale that he started barking to his companion in between calls on his cell phone, insisting that they lock it up. “Let’s get that Pistoletto!” he exclaimed, then took another phone call. (He ended each one with a kind of foreboding “Kisses! Kisses!”)
“It has this amazing presence,” his companion said, nodding.
The Michelangelo Pistoletto work in question might be Nero Legno (1961), which is on sale at the Italian Sale Thursday night, and is estimated to go for somewhere between £1.8 million and £2.5 million ($1.94 million and $3.21 million). Which might be why, as they were leaving, they were trying to figure out how to get two million pounds, in cash.