After a long Frieze Week of auctions and fairs in London, Christie’s staged its postwar and contemporary art evening sale on Friday night, bringing in £65.2 million ($80.4 million) over the course of 41 sold lots. That was a bit of a drop from the same sale last year, which netted the house £84.6 million ($109.5 million at the time) over the course of 45 lots.
But if the total haul was off, and if there were none of the fireworks that accompanied the $12.2 million Banksy spectacle last night at the otherwise sleepy Sotheby’s auction (which netted $67.3 million), Christie’s performance on the works that hit the block was at least solid. Only 6 pieces went unsold, for a solid sell-through rate of 87 percent by lot.
The star of the night was Jean-Michel Basquiat—as he so often is these days. His 1982 painting Four Big, realized across three joined canvases, was estimated at £7.5 million to £9.5 million, and sold for £8.6 million ($10.6 million) with the addition of buyer’s premium. It was the evening’s top lot.
(All sales prices include buyer’s premium, which is calculated as 25 percent of the hammer price up to and including £225,000, 20 percent on the hammer price from there up to and including £3 million, and 13.5 percent for anything above that lofty figure.)
Also putting up a big number, though not as big as some at Christie’s had hoped, was Sigmar Polke’s Alpenveilchen/Flowers (1967), which sold for £5.65 million ($6.97 million), edging over its low estimate of £5.65 million only with the help of premium. (Estimates are calculated sans such fees.) It had first been sold, back in the day, by then-Munich dealer Heiner Friedrich, who later went on to co-found the Dia Art Foundation in New York.
Speaking of Germans, Georg Baselitz’s mustard yellow Adler (Eagle), 1982, measuring about 100 by 80 inches, fared slightly better against its expectations. Estimated at £2.2 million to £2.8 million, it sold for £2.89 million ($3.56 million). The piece was last sold at auction at Christie’s London in June of 2016 for £1.31 million ($1.77 million at the time), so tonight’s sale represented a more-than-100 percent return in a little more than three years. Not bad.
Still another German, Gerhard Richter, also had a solid evening. His blurred 1966 double portrait Brautpaar (blau) (Bride and Groom (blue)) went for £3.13 million ($3.86 million), well above its £1.2 million to £1.8 million estimate. And a second Richter, this one a bright gestural abstraction of the kind preferred by the market, went for £7.01 million (about $8.64 million), after a heated war between two phone bidders. The 1984 work had been estimated at £6.5 million to £9.5 million.
Pierre Soulages, who turns 100 in December, had two pieces in the mix. The harsh, black-and-blue Peinture 222 x 222cm, 15 mai 1987 sold for £2.77 million ($3.42 million), over its £1.2 million-to-£1.8 million estimate. Following that, a 1960 Pierre Soulages, Peinture 146 x 114 cm, 6 mars 1960, which was being offered from a collection that had held it since 1966, made £5.48 million ($7.2 million) against an estimate of £4 million to £6 million.
Joan Mitchell, who was born a little more than five years after Soulages, had her lively painting Rhubarb (1962), measuring about 77 by 51 inches, make £3.37 million ($4.16 million) against a £3.2 million-to-£3.8 million estimate. But while it did not pop, that result was a massive leap over its last appearance at auction, in November of 1988 at Sotheby’s in New York, when tonight’s consignor acquired it for a mere $99,000.
These days, of course, you can very little in a major auction for such a modest sum—even untested emerging figures regularly soar into six figures. The much-buzzed-about painter Loie Hollowell (born 1983) had her 2014 work Lady in Green hit the block tonight with an estimate of £50,000 to £70,000, but bidders quickly pushed it to a £359,250 (about $443,000) finish.
Another closely watched contemporary figure, Jonas Wood, had his piece Hammer 5 (2010)—a kind of installation view of three of his works—up for sale for the first time, and it sold, albeit below its £1 million-to-£1.5 million estimate, for £800,625 ($987,000).
Christie’s closed out the night by offering about 30 lots in a Thinking Italian Evening auction that totaled £24.6 million ($30.3 million).
With the week’s market action in the British capital concluded, all eyes now turn to Paris, which will host the FIAC fair in less than two weeks, and then it is on to New York in November, where big-ticket auctions await.