LONDON—Christie’s smaller sale of Postwar and contemporary art on Feb. 11 had no single-owner collection, but nonetheless brought in a very healthy £39.1million ($61.1million) against a £26million/38million estimate. Of the 51 lots, 46, or 90 percent, were sold, including all of the highest-estimated works. As at Sotheby’s, European Postwar art was strongly represented, with works by Yves Klein again figuring among the top lots. RE 47 II, 1961, one of only two known gold-painted sponge reliefs by the artist, was consigned from an U.S. collection. It sold to a big-spending Swiss collection —the same one that had been bidding so actively at Sotheby’s the night before—for £5.8million ($9.1million), the highest price of the week (estimate: £5million/7million).
Not far behind in spending was London jewellery dealer Laurence Graff, who splashed out on his first Klein, acquiring the body painting ANT 5, 1962, for £4.1million ($6.4million) against an estimate of £1.5 million/2 million. It was a measure of how much Klein’s market has risen that the same painting had last sold at Sotheby’s in London in 2001 for £358,500 ($501,000). The market for Andy Warhol also showed signs of improvement when a large 1981 Dollar Sign, which had sold at Sotheby’s in New York in November 2005 for $1.6million, was also sold to Graff, for £2.3million ($3.5million) against a £1.2million/1.8million estimate.
The Dollar Sign headlined a modest selection of American art that also included Warhol’s Linda Cossey with Camera, ca. 1981, a portrait of filmmaker Linda Cossey, which sold to London dealer Stephen Ongpin for £881,250 ($1.4million) on an estimate of £450,000/550,000. Very Private Nurse #1, 2003, a medium-size Richard Prince “Nurse” painting, sold to a phone bidder for £1.7million ($2.7 million), underbid by Jose Mugrabi, on an estimate of £1.2million/1.8million. Eighteen months ago, the work would have been estimated at twice that, said Christie’s new head of contemporary art, Francis Outred.
Other European Postwar highlights included Flying Tanga, 1982–83, a five-part painting by Martin Kippenberger, which sold to adviser Philippe Ségalot for £2.6million ($4million) on an estimate of £800,000/1.2million, the second-highest price for a work by the artist at auction. Ononnimo, 1973, an eleven-part ballpoint-pen drawing by Alighiero Boetti, sold for a record £1million ($1.6million) on a £250,000/350,000 estimate, and White with Reddish Sign, 1963, a large, classic oil-and-sand painting by Antoni Tàpies sold for a record £993,250 ($1.5million) against an estimate of £300,000/400,000. The buyer of the Tàpies, adviser Rosario Saxe-Coburg, also bought another Spanish work, the superrealist painting Soaking Clothes, 1963, by Antonio López García, for £457,250 ($713,310) on a £350,000/450,000 estimate. The Nahmad family also actively bid on Postwar European works, including Jean Dubuffet’s painting Le Bateau II, 1964, which they bought for £577,250 ($900,500) on a £400,000/600,000 estimate, and Nicolas de Stäel’s Fleurs rouges, 1952, bought for £690,850 ($1.1million) against an estimate of £600,000/800,000.
Uneven Results for British Art
British art had its ups and downs. Frank Auerbach’s J.Y.M. Seated II, 1996, sold for £241,250 ($376,350), in the middle of the estimate of £180,000/250,000, to his dealer, Marlborough Fine Art, but the earlier Auerbach portrait Head of J.Y.M., 1973, sold above its estimate, to dealer Nicholas Maclean, for £1.4million ($2.2million) against a £900,000/1.2 million estimate. Richard Hamilton’s early Pop painting, Towards a definitive statement…, 1962, sold for £301,250 ($469,950), more than doubling the estimate of £80,000/120,000. And Gilbert and George’s early drawing The Head Afloat on Top… , 1971, sold to dealer Ivor Braka for £337,250 ($526,110) against an estimate of £150,000/200,000.
However, for more recent contemporary art, things were notably trickier. While the work of some artists is yielding massive returns for early buyers, the economic crisis has made valuation difficult. Glenn Brown’s market looks healthy after a successful Gagosian Gallery show in London produced individual sales in the $1million-plus range. Brown’s early Entertainment, 1995, which last sold at Christie’s in London in 2005—once the artist’s secondary market had taken off—for £142,200 ($251,550), sold for £361,250 ($563,550) against an estimate of £250,000/350,000. But Hiroshi Sugito’s Red Lounge, 2001, which Charles Saatchi had sold at Sotheby’s in New York in May 2007 for $216,000, slipped in value, selling for £91,250 ($142,350), albeit within the estimate of £80,000/120,000.
Saatchi sold a 1983 rear-view self-portrait by Martin Kippenberger from the “Dear Painter Paint Me” series, which he had bought at Christie’s in London in 2006 for £478,400 ($882,260), and which now fetched £847,650 ($1.3million) on an £800,000/1.2million estimate. Other Saatchi works by Matthew Day Jackson, Kai Althoff and Thomas Scheibitz appeared in the part-two sale at Christie’s.
The record £892,450 ($1.4million) price for Neo Rauch’s Stellwerk, 1999, at Christie’s in London last October did not boost buyer confidence enough to match the aggressive £500,000/700,000 ($783,000/1.1million) estimate for his Supply Stock, 1998, here, and the work went unsold. Peter Doig’s Concrete Cabin West Side, 1993, found only one bidder at £2million ($3.2million) against an estimate of £2million/3million. Damien Hirst’s butterfly collage Daemon, 2007, sold to Mugrabi for £313,250 ($488,600), below the £300,000/400,000 estimate without the buyer’s premium.
Several dealers found themselves buying works by their artists at hammer prices below estimate. Timothy Taylor bought Sean Scully’s Shadow Line, 1988, for £301,250 ($469,950) on an estimate of £300,000/500,000, and White Cube, London, bought Raqib Shaw’s Garden of Earthly Delights XIV, 2005, for £577,250 ($900,500) on an estimate of £500,000/700,000. Marlborough Fine Art bought Paula Rego’s The Death of the Blind Sister, 2007, for £145,250 ($226,590) on a £150,000/200,000 estimate, and Gregor Muir of Hauser & Wirth bought Paul McCarthy’s mechanical sculpture Alpine Man, 1992, for £769,250 ($1.2million) on a £800,000/1.2million estimate.
Nonetheless, Christie’s continued to be the most effective sales outlet for Joana Vasconcelos, as Marilyn, 2009, her giant sculpture of high-heeled shoes composed of pots and pans sold for a record £505,250 ($788,190) against an estimate of £100,000/150,000. But the highest price for a work by a living artist was the £601,250 ($937,950) paid by Graff for Matthew Day Jackson’s Bucky, 2007, a large oval portrait of Buckminster Fuller, which had been estimated at £30,000/40,000, in line with retail prices. Observers were at a loss to explain the remarkably high price.