LONDON—Christie’s rounded out the contemporary series with an evening sale on June 30 that took in £19.1million ($31.8million) on a £17.4million/24million estimate. The total was down 78 percent from £86.2million ($171.9million) last summer, when 58 lots were offered, versus 40 this time. The sell-through rate rose slightly, though, to 88 percent from 83 percent. The buying was 65 percent European, 29 percent U.S. and 6 percent Asian.
The sale was marred by the failure of two of the highest-estimated lots: a Lucio Fontana terra-cotta sculpture, Concetto Spaziale, Natura, 1959-60, which carried an estimate of £1.3million/1.9million ($2.1million/3million), the highest ever for a sculpture by the artist, and Yves Klein’s ANT 159, 1960, which was estimated at £1.2million/1.8million ($1.9million/2.9million), perhaps too high for a work that had been bought in 2003 for £207,000 ($331,200). The high prices for these artists in the Helga and Walther Lauffs Collection sales at Sotheby’s last year had created problems in setting estimates, Francis Outred, Christie’s new European head of Postwar and contemporary art, told ARTnewsletter.
Elsewhere, adjusted estimates made sales easier, particularly for the most hyped artists of the art boom. Country Nurse, 2003, the first Richard Prince nurse painting to appear on the market since prices crashed last October, was estimated at £1.5million/2million, which was very attractive considering other nurse paintings of that size had sold for up to £4million. Sold to a phone bidder for £1.7million ($2.9million), it was the only work in the sale to carry a guarantee, in the form of an irrevocable bid which collector Laurence Graff, in a remarkably candid admission, told reporters he had made. Gerhard Richter’s color-chart painting 1025 Colors, 1974, carried an estimate of £1.3million/2million, also rather soft considering a similar work fetched $4.1million at Sotheby’s in New York in May of last year. It was low enough to elicit a single bid from a U.S. collector, who bought the work for £1.4million ($2.3million). Jeff Koons’s “Popeye” sculpture Moustache, 2003, was estimated, conservatively by 2008 standards, at £1.2million/1.8million, and sold on a single bid from Gagosian for £1.1million ($1.8million). Another Koons work, Walrus (Blue), 1999, sold to adviser Kim Heirston for £361,250 ($602,870) on a £350,000/450,000 estimate, half the price another work from the series had sold for last year.
The most glaring price adjustment for Warhol had been made for his 22-inch-square Self Portrait, 1966, which had gone unsold at Christie’s in London in February 2008 with a £1.4million/2million ($2.7million/3.9million) estimate. Now estimated at £500,000/800,000, it sold for £690,850 ($1.15million). Another work that had previously gone unsold with an ambitious estimate was Frank Auerbach’s Tree in Mornington Crescent, 1991–92. Bought in at Christie’s in London in June 2007 on a £1million/1.5million estimate and a guarantee, it returned with a £500,000/700,000 estimate, and sold to dealer Ivor Braka for £881,250 ($1.5million).
The top price for a British artist—and of the sale—however, was the £3million ($5million) paid for Peter Doig’s Night Playground, 1997–98, which was consigned by New York collector Joel Mallin (estimate: £1.5million/2million). The price was the second-highest ever for a Doig painting.
The sale also yielded two record prices: One was for a work by the Italian Conceptual artist Alighiero Boetti, whose early diptych Rosso Gilera 60 1232 and Rosso Guzzi 60 1305, 1967, sold to dealer Daniella Luxembourg for £713,250 ($1.2million) on a £280,000/350,000 estimate. The other was for young Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos, whose Golden Independent Heart, 2004, sold to collector Madame Georges Marci for £163,250 ($272,625) on a £80,000/120,000 estimate.
Other buyers include Bona Montagu, of the Dickinson/Roundell partnership, who bought Takashi Murakami’s Flower Ball (3-D) Red Cliff, for £289,250 ($483,047) on a £220,000/280,000 estimate; Gilbert Lloyd, of Marlborough Fine Art, who bought Auerbach’s Head of Debbie Ratcliff II, 1983–84, for £343,250 ($573,227) on a £200,000/300,000 estimate; and London dealer Ben Brown, who bought Anselm Kiefer’s Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom, 2000, for £409,250 ($683,447), on a £350,000/500,000 estimate.