Sotheby’s notched a solid postwar and contemporary evening sale in London tonight, pulling in £62.4 million ($79.9 million) and managing to sell all but one of the 41 lots on offer, for a sell-through rate of 95 percent.
The haul was up 54 percent from the equivalent sale a year ago, when a poor showing for all houses pointed to the state of the market, and perhaps the superfluous nature of these post-Basel sales in London, the third round of bellwether contemporary evening auctions that the city hosts each year. In January, Christie’s announced that it would not hold a post-Basel contemporary sale this year, citing a busy summer calendar.
But the auction at Sotheby’s proved that there are still collectors ready to buy after the Grand Tour through Kassel, Munster, Basel, and elsewhere. For some artists, at least: the sale was led by market stalwarts Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat—Basquiat is still riding the ripple effects of the record-breaking $110.5 million sale at Sotheby’s in New York in May. An untitled Basquiat from 1983 went for £6.5 million ($8.4 million) to a bidder on the phone with the chief operating officer of Sotheby’s, Adam Chinn, and Warhol’s Self Portrait (1963–64)—which Sotheby’s had been marketing hard as “Warhol’s first-ever selfie,” and which was subject to an irrevocable bid—went for £6 million ($7.8 million). The Warhol was purchased by a bidder on the phone with London-based specialist James Sevier.
The sale’s surprising third highest-grossing lot was neither a Warhol nor a Basquiat, but a Warhol-Basquiat, part of the collaborative practice initiated by the Swiss dealer Bruno Bischofberger. Sweet Pungent (1984–85) was one of two Warhol-Basquiats offered in the sale by the fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, and it sold to specialist Alex Branczik’s client for £4.4 million ($5.7 million), tripling its high estimate after a fierce bidding war.
The collaborative aspect of the work is plainly on display: a silkscreen reproduction of the General Electric logo by Warhol, and a depiction of a exultant black boxer by Basquiat. The work was a favorite of Hilfiger’s, who purchased it from Bischofberger in 2008 and kept in hanging in the dining room of his Miami home. When asked by The Guardian during a wide-ranging interview, “What’s your most treasured possession?” Hilfiger responded, simply, “Sweet Pungent.”
Hilfiger’s two Warhol-Basquiat works were lots 13 and 14, and the sale was business as usual for the rest of the evening. Of the few highlights that followed, perhaps most notable was the dozen-bidders-deep battle that erupted during the sale of Wolfgang Tillmans’s Freischwimmer #81 (2005). After the smoke cleared, the work had sold for 500,750 ($647,500), an astounding four times its high estimate and a record for the artist in pounds. It’s clear that the double whammy of the Tillmans show at the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, and a high demand for his work at the fair there has pushed his market to a new high.
The London auctions continue tomorrow with the 20th century and contemporary art evening sale at Phillips.