LONDON—Sotheby’s Part One contemporary art sale in London on Oct. 12 realized a total of £34.9 million ($70.7 million), falling midway through its presale estimate of £29/40 million, with 57 of 68 lots, or 83.8 percent, selling. The total was nearly three times above a year-ago October’s Part One sale, which fetched £12.6 million, and nearly ten times more than in 2003 (£3.6 million), when the sales were timed to coincide with the first Frieze Art Fair.
Despite occasional weaknesses, the auction saw many strong points and set ten new artists’ records. The most bullish parts of the sale, however, were for works by Asian artists. India-born Raqib Shaw’s large triptych, Garden of Earthly Delights III, 2003, fell to his dealer Jeffrey Deitch for a record £2.7 million, or $5.5 million (estimate: £400,000/600,000); and Chinese artist Yue Minjun’s Execution, 1995, bought by the consignor in 1996 for $32,000, went for £2.9 million, or $5.9 million (estimate: £1.5/2 million), to an anonymous phone bidder—a record for any work of Chinese contemporary art at auction. In total, six works by Chinese artists made £6.4 million ($13 million), against a high estimate of £5.2 million.
The best of the works by Andy Warhol was a small but perfectly screenprinted Jackie, 1964, which fell to private dealer Nicholas Maclean for £1.7 million, or $3.4 million (estimate: £800,000/1.2 million); and a luminous Mark Rothko acrylic on paper, Untitled (Blue Divided by Blue), 1966, set a record for a work on paper by Rothko, selling to a phone buyer, bidding against dealer Helly Nahmad, for £2.6 million, or $5.4 million (estimate: £2.2/2.8 million).
The top price for a work by a British artist was the £1.8 million, or $3.7 million (estimate: £1.5/2 million), given by Larry Gagosian for Francis Bacon’s Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne, 1983.
Other buyers at the sale: London dealer Michael Hue-Williams won Cai Guo-Qiang’s gunpowder drawing Nine Cars, 2004, for £401,300, or $814,639 (estimate: £300,000/400,000); Victor Pires-Vieira, believed to be acting for the Serralves collection in Portugal, acquired John Baldessari’s Word Chain: Palm Tree (Cynthia’s Story), 1975, for £108,500, or $220,255 (estimate: £100,000/150,000); Madame Georges Marci snagged Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Catherine Howard, 1999, for £132,500, or $268,975 (estimate: £70,000/90,000); dealer Thomas Dane bought Albert Oehlen’s abstract Untitled, 1989, for £168,500, or $342,055 (estimate: £120,000/150,000); and the Citigroup Art Advisory Service purchased Neo Rauch’s Erwerb (Acquisition), 1998, for £356,500, or $723,695 (estimate: £180,000/250,000).
Records fell for British graffiti artist Banksy (£322,900, or $655,487), for the painting The Rude Lord, 2006; Rosemarie Trockel (a double-estimate £252,500, or $512,575), against bidding from the Serralves collection, for the woolwork Balaklava Box—Uniqum, 1986-90; James Turrell (£216,500, or $439,495), for the fluorescent-light installation Ondoe Blue, 1968; George Condo (£276,500, or $561,295), for the painting Visions of Mexico, 1995, won by dealer Nicolai Frahm; and Martin Kobe (£72,500, or $147,175), for a 2004 untitled architectural composition.
On the downside, works by several artists with successful market track records—including Frank Auerbach, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Glenn Brown, Damien Hirst and Lisa Yuskavage—failed to sell. In general, this was attributable to over-optimistic reserves demanded by vendors in the summer, before the sub-prime market collapsed, Sotheby’s senior specialist Oliver Barker told ARTnewsletter.
A large Hirst spot painting carried a huge £1.8 million low estimate and got no bids. Two works by Brown were considered too early to warrant low estimates as strong as £250,000 and £300,000; similarly, a Basquiat painting was thought to be too weak for its £1 million low estimate. Furthermore, 23 works sold either on or below their low estimates, indicating that Sotheby’s had lowered reserves before the sale. After the sale, auctioneer Tobias Meyer commented that the $5 million-plus taken for two Asian artists—included for the first time in a Part One contemporary sale—represented “a new dynamic” signaling “market changes.”
Judging from the buyer breakdown, U.S. buying was lower than ever at 19 percent of the lots, with the U.K. and Europe holding at a steady 71 percent. Middle East and Asian buyers shared 12 percent of lots equally, while Chinese and Russian buyers accounted for none.