LONDON—Bonhams held a contemporary art sale in London—its first in several years—on Oct. 13. Headed by former Christie’s and Phillips de Pury & Company specialist Anthony McNerney, the new department boasts former Sotheby’s and Christie’s employees as well as some from Benjamin Brown’s gallery, for whom McNerney also briefly worked. Clearly Bonhams had put money into its efforts to gain a niche in this lucrative market. Apart from the level of staffing, the house produced a glossy catalogue, shipped highlights to New York and Hong Kong for public view, and, for the top-three lots of the sale, gave a cash advance or guarantee to the respective vendors—a first for Bonhams, whose chairman, Robert Brooks, had previously been averse to the guarantee concept. However, the financial incentives proved necessary to secure these lots against competitive offers from Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
Squeezing into the busy Frieze week in an afternoon slot, the sale was brief with just 20 lots estimated to fetch at least £3.2 million ($5 million). Of these, 14 lots were sold for a total of £2 million ($3.2 million).
Lueurs, 1981, a painting by Paris-based, Chinese abstractionist Chu Teh-Chun, exceeded estimates of £30,000/50,000 to sell for £109,250 ($172,615), as did an early work on paper, Brou de Noix, 1951, by Pierre Soulages, which sold for £103,250 ($162,150), compared with an estimate of £60,000/80,000, before the first major lot, a small untitled oil and collage from 1963 by French Pop artist Martial Raysse, was offered with a £350,000/450,000 estimate. Subject to a cash advance to the vendor, it sold on a single telephone bid on the low estimate to fetch £421,250 ($661,360) with premium. The second major work, Glenn Brown’s relatively early piece, Little Death, 2000, had been guaranteed and sold to U.S. collector Adam Lindemann far below the £700,000/900,000 estimate at £601,250 ($943,960). However, the third major work, Alighiero Boetti’s rare, complete magazine-cover collage, Anno 1984, 1984, estimated at £1.2 million/1.8 million, received no bids. Prior to the sale, McNerney had conceded that because there were no precedents for such a work, a value estimation had been “inspired guesswork.” The only other comparable examples are in museums. But, to secure it for sale against rival auctioneers, McNerney had arranged a cash advance for a small portion of the value, which would be returnable should Bonhams not find a buyer.
Following that disappointment, Bonhams then secured a reasonable £145,250 ($229,500) for Wim Delvoye’s eight-foot Dump Truck, 2004, compared with an estimate of £120,000/180,000, and a quite positive £253,250 ($400,135) for Alice Neel’s portrait, The Baron, 1959, compared with an estimate of £150,000/200,000.