Market News

Christie’s Nets $117.8 M. in Solid London Postwar Sale, Setting Records for Oehlen, Crosby, Tillmans

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, The Beautyful Ones (2012).COURTESY CHRISTIE'S

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, The Beautyful Ones, 2012.


The postwar and contemporary auctions in London kicked off tonight with a strong showing at Christie’s King Street salesroom, where its evening sale managed a £96.3 million haul ($117.8 million), with a solid sell-through rate of 95 percent, with only three lots passed over. That total easily eclipsed the low estimate of £67.5 million ($82.4 million) and approached the high estimate of £101.6 million ($123.9 million).

The sale’s top lots were Mark Rothko’s No. 1 (1949), which sold for £10.7 million ($13.1 million), and Peter Doig,
Cobourg 3 + 1 More (1993), which sold for £12.7 million ($15.6 million).

There were a slew of auction records throughout the proceedings, for the artists Albert Oehlen, Wolfgang Tillmans, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Cecily Brown, Henry Taylor, Carol Rama, and Günther Uecker. There was also a record for a Jean Dubuffet work on paper, and a record for Joan Miró’s collaborative ceramic work with Josep Llorens-Artigas.

The sale saw strong showings for several artists who are enjoying a healthy amount of buzz, including Adrian Ghenie, who did not achieve a record but did have a work of his sell for £1.8 million ($2.2 million) early in the sale, tripling its high estimate. The most striking sale of a market darling came one lot earlier, when Crosby’s 2012 work The Beautyful Ones came to the block with a high estimate of £600,000 ($736,800). A slew of bidders immediately jumped in to vie for the work, pushing the price quickly past £1 million before soaring up to a hammer of £2.1 million, or £2.5 million ($3.1 million) with the buyer’s premium.

The sale caps a remarkably rise for the young L.A.-based artist, who makes just five or six works a year. Her London Gallery, Victoria Miro, says there is a long waiting list of institutions waiting to buy. This has pushed up her prices at auction in an astonishingly short amount of time—just five months ago, a work sold at the Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale for $93,000, over a high estimate of $25,000. At Sotheby’s in November, her work sold for $1.1 million, over a high estimate of $600,000. With this new auction record, Crosby’s prices have increased 3,200 percent in just a few months.

The night’s robust showing should instill confidence in both Christie’s and the market in general. After Brexit and the surprise result of the U.S. election destabilized a market already going through a correction, analysts are hoping that a healthy economy (and the prospect of tax cuts for the very wealthy caste that includes most collectors) can help spur on market growth.

There is also a question of the health of Christie’s. The auction house announced last month that its contemporary sales were down 41 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, and the department is undergoing a rebuilding period following the departure of its longtime chairman, Brett Gorvy.

The contemporary sales in London continue tomorrow with evening auctions at Phillips and Sotheby’s.

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