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.