In the wake of the recent Guggenheim controversy—wherein three works using or depicting live animals were pulled from an upcoming show at the New York institution following protests—now is a perilous time indeed to put on view something activated by the presence of captive fauna. And yet, when the masses walked up to Christie’s King Street flagship in London’s Mayfair to preview work hitting the block this week, there to greet them at the windows of the house’s Duke Street gallery is Damien Hirst’s Love Lost (1999), a gigantic water tank containing, among other things, a computer, a gynecologist’s chair, and living freshwater fish.
Look at them go! The fish darted around the odd submerged landscape with apparent ease, swooping in and around the aquatic doctor’s office. It looked like they really are having a ball here in Londontown. And perhaps this is because, as indicated on the base of the work, Christie’s did everything it could to safeguard itself from criticism.
“Please note that the installation of this artwork has been undertaken with the assistance of aquatic experts to ensure the correct handling of the fish,” the text reads.
These aquatic experts have allowed Christie’s to do what other arts organizations have opted not to undertake. At the Arte Povera show up now at Hauser & Wirth’s gallery in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, for instance, Pier Paolo Calzolari’s Senza Titolo (1972) is presented with a goldfish bowl, sans the work’s required goldfish. A note claims that “Due to animal welfare guidelines, it is no longer permitted to include living creatures in an exhibition.” (A representative from Christie’s at the preview said the house has yet to receive any complaints about the live fish in the Hirst.)
Love Lost is expected to sell for as much as £1.8 million (about $2.39 million) at Christie’s postwar and contemporary evening sale in London on Friday, and it is just one highlight of the sale. Francis Bacon’s Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd version 1971 gets its own room downstairs, and for good reason, as it hasn’t been shown in public since 1971, the year it was completed. It’s expected to be sold for as much as £60 million ($79.6 million) at the auction Friday, and very well may disappear again.
And then upstairs is Basquiat’s Red Skull (1982), the latest of the artist’s skull works to get consigned to auction since a massive untitled one went for $110.5 million at Sotheby’s in New York last May. This one could go for as much as £18 million ($23.9 million). It was thoughtfully hung in a low-lit room that’s off to the side of the main viewing vestibule.
“It really does look great in here,” said Brett Gorvy. He was at Christie’s on King Street for the first Frieze Week in years where he is not the house’s main macher but an outside dealer, having formed Lévy Gorvy last December with dealer Dominique Lévy. He was working the rooms next to Francis Outred (the auction house’s chairman and head of postwar and contemporary art for Europe, Middle East, Russia, and India), as if he had never left, glad-handing and cheek-kissing collectors as they came by.
“Usually this room is just an afterthought, but the Basquiat looks great here,” Gorvy said, before ducking out to return to mingling.