LONDON—Like Sotheby’s, Christie’s rolled its sales of contemporary art and Italian art into one auction, selecting just 25 contemporary works and 37 Italian works for a prominent evening sale on Oct. 16, following Sotheby’s long afternoon event. This made sense in view of the sharp reduction in the number of lots offered in each category, but also made any meaningful comparison with previous sales difficult. By selling 24 of the contemporary works, Christie’s was able to publish a bullish sell-through rate of 96 percent by lot, but there was still a drastic difference between the overall result of this sale and that of the market peak in October 2007, when 89 percent of 101 lots were sold.
Including its part-two day sale, Christie’s racked up £20.5 million ($33.2 million) in sales for 202 lots offered—just outpacing Sotheby’s total of £20.2 million ($32.8 million) for 250 lots offered. The geographic breakdown of buyers in the evening contemporary sale was 50 percent U.S., 42 percent European (including the U.K. and Russia), and 8 percent Asian—though the significance of those figures with so few works for sale is questionable.
Three out of the seven top lots in the Postwar and contemporary section had come from the Saatchi Collection. Leading the sale was Martin Kippenberger’s Paris Bar, 1991, which brought the second-highest price for a work by the artist at auction, £2.3 million ($3.7 million), on an estimate of £800,000/1.2 million. The painting sold to a U.S. collector on the phone, bidding against New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch and collector Ingvild Goetz in the room. Another version of the painting had sold at Phillips, de Pury & Company in New York in November 2007 for £636,000 ($1.3 million). Further underlining the increase in prices for Kippenberger’s best works, Deitch then outbid Goetz to buy the painting Kellner Des (Waiter of . . .), 1991—which Saatchi had bought in 2003 for £196,000 ($331,240) at Sotheby’s in London—for £1.1 million ($1.8 million) against an estimate of £500,000/700,000.
A few lots later, Chinese artist Li Songsong’s large painting Cuban Sugar, 2006, also from the Saatchi Collection, sold for a record £433,250 ($706,200) to a bidder on the phone with Christie’s director of Russia, Matthew Stephenson (estimate: £300,000/400,000). The same bidder, whom Christie’s said was based in Europe, also paid a record £892,450 ($1.5 million) for Neo Rauch’s large canvas Signal Box, 1999 (estimate: £350,000/450,000), and bought Peter Doig’s Pine House (Rooms for Rent), 1994, for £1.4 million ($2.25 million), below the estimate of £1.5 million/2 million. The latter painting had been bought in from the collection of Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation president Jennifer Stockman last November at Christie’s in New York, where it carried a guarantee and an estimate of $4.5 million/6.5 million. Now the property of Christie’s, it almost certainly represented a loss for the house.
Other previously guaranteed and unsold works included in the sale were Frank Auerbach’s Head of E.O.W., 1967–68, which had been offered at Christie’s in London in 2007 with an estimate of £190,000/250,000 and sold now for £121,250 ($197,637) against a £70,000/90,000 estimate; Andy Warhol’s The Last Supper, 1986 (in the part-two sale), which had been guaranteed at Christie’s in New York in May of last year with a $600,000/800,000 estimate and sold now for £103,250 ($167,265) on an estimate of £80,000/120,000; and Rudolf Stingel’s wallpaper-design painting Untitled, 2004, which had gone unsold with a guarantee and a £500,000/700,000 ($1 million/1.4 million) estimate at Christie’s in London in February of last year, and sold now for £269,250 ($439,000) against a £150,000/200,000 estimate. The buyer of the Stingel was Miami collector Carlos de la Cruz.
Other lots returning to the market included two works by Damien Hirst that had been part of the artist’s “Pharmacy” sale at Sotheby’s in London in October 2004 (ANL, 10/26/04). Hirst’s butterfly painting I Miss You, 1997–98, had sold at the “Pharmacy” sale for £263,200 ($473,760). The buyer, Ezra Nahmad, had twice tried unsuccessfully to resell it for a profit at Christie’s auctions since then, once in June 2008 with a £700,000/800,000 ($1.4 million/1.6 million) estimate, and then in October 2008 with a £500,000/700,000 ($850,000/1.2 million) estimate. Ultimately the owner had to be satisfied with a much more meager return, as the work sold for £337,250 ($549,717) on a £200,000/300,000 estimate. A small medicine cabinet, Maxwell’s, 1997–98, had sold in 2004 for £117,600 ($190,512) and was subsequently offered and bought in at Christie’s in London in July 2008 with a £350,000/450,000 ($700,000/900,000) estimate. At this sale it returned to its 2004 value, selling for £115,250 ($187,860) on an estimate of £100,000/150,000 to dealer Jose Mugrabi.
Other buyers in the room included dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, who bought Luc Tuymans’s Pigeons, 2001 (also previously in the Saatchi Collection), for £385,250 ($627,957) on a £200,000/300,000 estimate with a guarantee, and Pilar Ordovas, formerly Christie’s head of contemporary art in Europe, now working for the Gagosian Gallery. Ordovas, on behalf of a client, outbid private dealer Desmond Page to buy Frank Auerbach’s Park Village East–Summer II, 2005, for £205,250 ($334,560) against an estimate of £100,000/150,000.
Christie’s Italian sale was less successful than Sotheby’s. Of 28 lots on offer, 24 found buyers for a healthy sell-through of 86 percent, but the Italian section brought in only £5.79 million ($9.4 million) against an overall low estimate of £6.5 million ($10.6 million). One of the few works to spark a bidding war was a 1913–14 ink and brush study for Gino Severini’s painting Sea = Dancer, which is in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. The battle was eventually won by New York adviser David Nisinson in the room, who paid £265,250 ($429,705), well above the estimate of £100,000/150,000.