LONDON—Sotheby’s picked up where Christie’s left off and continued in much the same vein for its evening sale of contemporary art on Feb. 15. Overall, 57, or 90.5 percent, of 63 lots were sold for a total of £50.7 million ($79.7 million), exceeding the pre-sale estimate of £34.5 million/48 million.
The star of the sale was Gerhard Richter, who claimed four of the five top lots. In all, six Richter paintings were sold for £17.6 million ($27.6 million), against a presale estimate of £10.5 million/14.8 million. As at Christie’s, the emphasis was on the colored abstracts, which had performed so well for Sotheby’s in New York in November. The largest piece (though not as large as Christie’s top Richter), Abstraktes Bild, 1992, topped estimates of £3 million/4 million to achieve £4.86 million ($7.6 million), while a slightly smaller, predominantly red abstract from 1991 sold for £4.1 million ($6.4 million) on a £2.5 million/3.5 million estimate. However, Richter’s market is not all about abstracts. Estimated at £2 million/3 million, a landscape photopainting, Ice, 1981, sold for £4.3 million ($6.7 million)—a record for a Richter landscape according to Sotheby’s.
Other German art that sold well included, Andreas Gursky’s James Bond Island I, 2007, which sold for £713,250 ($1.1 million), against an estimate of £300,000/400,000, to Bona Montagu of London advisory firm Dickinson Roundell, bidding for a client against London dealer Peter Osborne, among many others; Sigmar Polke’s large dispersion on paper, Untitled, 2004, which sold to Paolo Vedovi for £541,250 ($849,762), compared with an estimate of £200,000/300,000; Albert Oehlen’s large abstract, Untitled, 1989, which sold for a record £445,250 ($699,042), on an estimate of £200,000/300,000, after underbidding by Amsterdam dealer Siebe Tettero and Gagosian Gallery, which has just taken on representation of the artist; and A.R. Penck’s 1965 painting Methode, Fertigzuwerden, which fetched a record £325,250 ($510,642), against an estimate of £90,000/120,000.
In spite of the outsize show of new work on exhibit at White Cube gallery, Anselm Kiefer’s work struggled to meet estimates. Thora, 2010, a lead typewriter in a vitrine, sold back to Gagosian, where it was originally shown in New York, for £277,250 ($435,282) on an estimate of £250,000/350,000.
Italian Postwar art was led by a black, burned plastic work by Alberto Burri titled Nero Plastica, 1965, which sold to Helly Nahmad for £2.1 million ($3.3 million), on an estimate of £800,000/1.2 million, while Burri’s oil and fabric Composizione, 1952, sold to Galerie Tega, Milan, which had previously sold the work at Art Basel, for £481,250 ($755,560) on a £400,000/500,000 estimate.
Nahmad was in business in the Fontana market, as usual, buying a white single-slashed Concetto Spaziale, 1966, for £623,250 ($978,500), on an estimate of £400,000/600,000, against some underbidding from Jose Mugrabi, while Galerie Tega was the underbidder on Fontana’s gray slashed Concetto Spaziale, 1965, which sold for £802,850 ($1.3 million), compared with an estimate of £450,000/650,000.
French Postwar offerings were led by Yves Klein’s body painting, ANT 59, 1960. Estimated at £450,000/650,000, Nahmad was outgunned when the piece sold for £937,250 ($1.5 million)—a useful profit for the vendor who bought it during the market correction in June 2009 at Sotheby’s London for £457,250 ($717,880).
Also in this category were two abstract paintings by the Paris-based, Chinese artist Zao Wou-ki. Normally sold in Hong Kong, the lots here were part of a much larger single-owner consignment. Though not from his vintage 1950s period, the two paintings, 28.12.99 and 10.1.91, sold to Asian telephone buyers for £1.8 million ($2.8 million), against an estimate of £500,000/700,000, and £1.6 million ($2.5 million), compared with an estimate of £600,000/800,000, respectively.
American Postwar offerings were slim, as at Christie’s, and saw Mugrabi active as the only bidder on Andy Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes, 1980–1, which he bought for £735,650 ($1.1 million), compared with an estimate of £700,000/1 million, and Keith Haring’s untitled sculpture of three dancing figures, 1989, which he bought for £349,250 ($548,322), on an estimate of £300,000/400,000. Mugrabi also underbid Jean-Michel Basquiat’s blackboard-style silkscreen, Tuxedo, 1983, which sold to New York dealer Stellan Holm for £724,450 ($1.1 million), against an estimate of £250,000/350,000, as well as Basquiat’s acrylic on paper, Untitled (Slingshot), 1983, which sold for £409,250 ($642,522), on an estimate of £300,000/400,000. The top Basquiat of the evening was the more substantial Orange Sports Figure, 1982, which sold for £4.1 million ($6.4 million), compared with an estimate of £3 million/4 million, racking up a healthy profit for the private European vendor who bought it at Sotheby’s New York in May 1992 for $66,000.
Although British art was well represented, only one lot, Francis Bacon’s unresolved Figure with Monkey, 1951, made it into the top bracket—selling on a single phone bid for £1.8 million ($2.8 million), compared with an estimate of £1.8 million/2.5 million.
Prices were stronger lower down the scale. Five drawings by Lucian Freud, from the collection of his former dealer James Kirkman, brought a total of £2.4 million ($3.8 million), against an estimate of £1.4 million/2 million.
Two were bought by Acquavella Galleries, which became Freud’s dealer after Kirkman: the early Cacti and Stuffed Bird, 1943, sold for £433,250 ($680,200) on an estimate of £400,000/500,000, and the later Head of Success II, 1983, sold for £253,250 ($397,600), against an estimate of £100,000/150,000. The highest price of the group was Freud’s drawing of Lord Goodman, 1985, which was won by Matthew Green of Richard Green Galleries, bidding against London dealer Pilar Ordovas. It sold for £735,650 ($1.1 million), compared with an estimate of £400,000/600,000.
Ordovas was more successful buying Howard Hodgkin’s Gossip, 1994–95, for which she had to pay a record £481,250, against a £250,000/350,000 estimate. Marlborough Fine Art were the only bidders for Frank Auerbach’s Julia Seated II, 1992, at £217,250 ($341,080), against an estimate of £200,000/300,000, while Ordovas was again an underbidder on Bridget Riley’s zippy Tabriz, 1984, which sold for £457,250 ($717,880), compared with an estimate of £250,000/350,000.
It was a see-saw evening for Damien Hirst as a large, spin painting, Beautiful Strummerville Spin…, donated to a charity, caught the attention of two bidders, one of whom paid £445,250 ($700,000), well above the £200,000/300,000 estimate; but a large, spot painting, Mercuric Thiocyanate, 2007, bought through Haunch of Venison, needed an underbid from Mugrabi to coax a winning bid, below the estimate. An Asian phone bidder secured the painting for £577,250 ($906,280), compared with an estimate of £500,000/700,000.
Compared to Christie’s, Charles Saatchi’s input as a seller was minimal and included, a Wangechi Mutu collage, which went unsold with an estimate of £120,00/180,000, and the large Ash Head No.1, 2007, by Zhang Huan, which sold for £145,250 ($288,040), missing the estimate of £150,000/200,000.