It rained artist records at the postwar and contemporary auction at Christie’s London tonight, with work by no less than six artists picking up new high marks. The sale brought in £95.6 million ($150.1 million) in total, with a solid 87 percent of its lots selling.
Perhaps the most momentous sale of the night was Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary (1996), the painting of acrylic, oil, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter, map pins, and, yes, elephant dung that once so infuriated New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Estimated to sell for £1.4 million to £1.8 million ($2.2 million to $2.83 million), it made £2.88 million, or about $4.54 million, a new record for the artist.
The top lot of the sale was a 1967 Francis Bacon, Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne and George Dyer, which sold for £12.2 million ($19.2 million), a number that put it just beyond its £12 million ($18.8 million) high estimate with the addition of buyer’s premium. (All sales prices include premium.)
Bacon also took the second-place slot, with Two Men Working in a Field (1971), a large painting from 1972 that slipped past its £10 million high estimate ($15.7 million) to sell for £10.7 million ($16.9 million).
A 1969 Sigmar Polke, rich with pinks and purples, Moonlit landscape with reeds, earned £3.89 million ($6.12 million) on the block, close to its £4.5 million ($7.08 million) high estimate. Four works by the late German artist were on offer in the sale. The three priciest all found buyers, who each paid more than $1 million. The lone unsold work was a set of photographs from 1992 that had been tagged with a £120,000-to-£180,000 ($189,000-to-$283,000) estimate.
Christie’s started off the sale with a bang, lining up three works by artists whose markets are ferociously hot. A Jeff Elrod painting nearly doubled its high estimate of £120,000 (189,000), selling for £218,500 ($343,900), a new record; a Danh Vo gold-leaf-on-cardboard number sold for the same price (just above its high estimate of £200,000, or about $314,800); and a hand-woven abstraction by Brent Wadden made £123,000 ($192,815), trouncing its £50,000 ($78,700) high estimate, a record for the artist.
Records were also set for R.H. Quaytman (£578,500, or about $911,000, for a suite of paintings), Malcolm Morley (£1.2 million, or $1.89 million, for a photo-realistic work from 1966), and the Chapman Brothers (£422,500, or $665,015, for a rather graphic sculpture based on a Goya print).
The high-flying contemporary-art action continues tomorrow night at Sotheby’s London.