LONDON—Bonhams started London’s winter contemporary art sales on Feb. 13. With a £1 million ($1.6 million) sale total that fell short of its £1.8 million/2.7 million estimate, 11 out of the 20 lots went unsold. These included the highest estimated lot, Urs Fischer’s furniture sculpture, Untitled, 2006, acquired by the American consignor from Gavin Brown’s Enterprise and estimated at £400,000/600,000. It was one of three lots from the same consignor, all of which had been guaranteed. The other guaranteed works were Richard Prince’s Untitled (Girlfriend), 1987, acquired from Gagosian Gallery in 2009, that sold for £157,250 ($246,880), compared with an estimate of £150,000/200,000, and Jack Pierson’s You Rotten Prick, 2004, which was unsold with a £100,000/150,000 estimate. The most successful sale was the top lot, a 1960 charcoal portrait of Lucian Freud by Frank Auerbach. The piece sold over the phone to London dealer Pilar Ordovas for £481,250 ($755,560), on an estimate of £300,000/500,000.
Some of the lots were just too highly estimated, observers said. As an embroidered bead work by Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri, Salt Desert, 2005, was offered with a £120,000 low estimate, art advisor Amir Shariat told ARTnewsletter, “it should be £80,000.” Sure enough, it was knocked down to £85,000 without a bid.
Within minutes of the sale ending, Bonhams announced that two further lots, by Mike Kelley and Alan Davie, had been sold in after-sale agreements, but, as they were low value, they made little difference to the figures, bringing the sale total up to £1.08 million ($1.7 million).
“Obviously, it was a disappointment,” said Bonhams’s contemporary art head Anthony McNerney afterwards. “But it is only the second sale held by this department in what is part of a five year plan. Maybe everyone was waiting to see what happens at Christie’s tomorrow.”