LONDON—The Postwar and contemporary sales concluded on a high note. At Sotheby’s evening sale on July 1, the house realized a total of £94.7 million ($189 million), the highest on record for a contemporary sale in Europe, and the only sale of the week to approach its presale high estimate (£67 million/96 million). The unsold rate of just 5 percent, or 4 out of the 75 lots offered, was also the lowest of the week, showing remarkable consistency with last June, before the economic downturn, when it was just 8 percent.
The sale’s success was due to the consistently high quality of both the Postwar and the contemporary work that filled the sale. Fifty-four of the 71 lots that sold did so at hammer prices either within or above estimates.
Francis Bacon’s small Study for Head of George Dyer, 1967, from the collection of longtime Bacon collector Mercedes Stoutzker, raced past its £8 million unpublished estimate to sell for £13.8 million ($27.4 million) to an anonymous phone bidder against Asian competition in the room. Also among the top prices were the £5.1 million ($10 million) paid by a European collector for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Pecho/Oreja), 1982–83, from the collection of Irish rock band U2 (estimate: £4 million/6 million), and the record £4.2 million ($8.5 million) paid by fashion designer Valentino, bidding against Alberto Mugrabi, for Richard Prince’s Overseas Nurse, 2002, from the collection of British collector Frank Cohen (estimate: £4 million/6 million).
One of the biggest consigments in the sale was a group of 12 European Postwar works from the Helga and Walter Lauffs collection, which realized £19 million ($37 million) against a presale estimate of £6.5 million/8.9 million. Following the success of the first consignment of works from this collection in New York in May (ANL, 5/27/08), record prices were achieved for Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, whose Métamatic No. 7, 1959, sold for £1 million ($2 million) on an estimate of £150,000/200,000; French Pop artist Martial Raysse, whose mixed-media collage Snack, 1964, sold for £1.2 million ($2.3 million) on an estimate of £600,000/800,000; and Italian artist Domenico Gnoli, whose Pocket, 1968, sold for £769,250 ($1.5 million) to a phone bidder against Daniella Luxembourg in the room (estimate: £300,000/400,000).
As in New York, works by Yves Klein and Piero Manzoni from the Lauffs collection soared over estimates. One anonymous telephone bidder paid £4.2 million ($8.3 million) for Klein’s body painting ANT 131, 1961 (estimate: £700,000/900,000). Another buyer, a European collector bidding through a Sotheby’s Paris expert, paid £3.2 million ($6.3 million) for Klein’s rose-colored sponge, RE3, 1960 (estimate: £1.5 million/2 million).
Also buying from the Lauffs collection was a Zurich collector, who acquired Klein’s ANT 2, 1961 (estimate: £600,000/800,000), for £2.3 million ($4.6 million) and outbid dealer Ivan Wirth to buy Manzoni’s sewn canvas Achrome, 1960, for £517,250 ($1 million) on an estimate of £300,000/400,000. But that Zurich buyer was outbid for Manzoni’s cotton-wool squares, Achrome, 1960 (estimate: £500,000/700,000), which was won by dealer Anthony Meier for £1.9 million ($3.8 million). Meier also collected a slashed red Concetto Spaziale, Attese, 1965–66, by Lucio Fontana from the Lauffs collection (estimate: £800,000/1.2 million) for £1.9 million ($3.8 million). An Italian dealer bought Christo’s Wrapped Coast, Project for Australia, Scale Model, 1969 (estimate: £120,000/180,000), for £157,250 ($312,930).
The other Postwar works to make a mark in the sale were British. Apart from the Bacon, Head of Helen Gillespie, 1963–64, by Bacon’s fellow School of London artist Frank Auerbach (estimate: £500,000/700,000), raced to a record £1.9 million ($3.8 million), while one of Bridget Riley’s first works in color, Chant 2, 1967 (plucked from the Hoh Collection of mostly Impressionist art consigned to Christie’s [ANL, 7/8/08]), sold to a U.S. collector for a record £2.5 million ($5.1 million) on an estimate of £2 million/3 million.
Among the more contemporary works to shine were Marlene Dumas’s The Visitor, 1995 (estimate: £800,000/1.2 million), which sold to a U.S. collector for £3.2 million ($6.3 million)—a record for a living female artist—as well as a clutch of works by other British artists. Records were set for Antony Gormley, whose life-size maquette for The Angel of the North, 1997, took £2.3 million ($4.5 million); Anish Kapoor, whose alabaster Untitled, 2003, brought £1.9 million ($3.8 million); Sean Scully, whose Valencia Wall, 2006, took £657,250 ($1.2 million); and Rachel Whiteread, whose bookcase sculpture, Untitled (Colours), 2002, sold for £445,250 ($886,050).
As at Christie’s, Gilbert & George benefited from strong underbidding by L&M Arts when their early photographic work Dead Boards, No. 13, 1976, which sold in New York in 1999 for $123,500, sold here for £541,250 ($1.1 million) on an estimate of £350,000/450,000. But once again, it just wasn’t Damien Hirst’s night: Rapture, 2003, a large circular butterfly collage, was his main work in the sale, and it also sold to White Cube for a low-estimate £1.4 million ($2.7 million) with premium (estimate: £1.2 million/1.8 million).
Indian art was given some exposure: Subodh Gupta’s painting Untitled, 2005 (estimate: £200,000/300,000), sold to a phone bidder against a representative known to be bidding for Charles Saatchi for £601,250 ($1.2 million), and Bharti Kher’s sculpture Misdemeanours, 2006, was snapped up by dealer Micky Tiroche, also bidding against Saatchi’s representative, for £75,650 ($150,540) on an estimate of £40,000/60,000.
Other buyers at the sale included the Nahmad family, who acquired Jean Dubuffet’s sculpture Logos I (estimate: £300,000/400,000) for £445,250 ($886,050); Jonathan Binstock of Citigroup’s Art Advisory Service, who bought Lucian Freud’s small Annie Reading, 1969, estimated at £300,000/400,000, for £713,250 ($1.4 million); dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, who bought Anselm Kiefer’s Der Eingeborene, 1986 (estimate: £300,000/400,000), for £337,250 ($671,120); Alberto Mugrabi, who bought Richard Prince’s Two Nights in a Row, 2002, for £746,850 ($1.5 million) on an estimate of £500,000/700,000 and Christopher Wool’s Untitled (P447), 2004, within estimates for £241,250 ($480,087); dealer Paolo Vedovi, who bought Gilbert & George’s The Basket, 1978, for £277,250 ($551,730) on an estimate of £250,000/350,000; and dealer Nancy Whyte, who bought Hirst’s spin painting Beautiful, Fleshy, Spinning, Expensive . . . ,1995, for a mid-estimate £265,250 ($527,847).
According to Sotheby’s, the buyers were 49 percent European (including U.K. and Russian), 39 percent from the U.S. and 3 percent Asian. Sotheby’s also announced that its turnover for contemporary art worldwide since the beginning of the year had increased by 46 percent over the same period in 2007.