Sotheby’s sold £118 million (about $143.6 million) worth of work during its contemporary art evening auction in London, continuing the flash of market brawn that’s been on display in the city this week. Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s had sales that outperformed the equivalent auctions that took place in their London salesrooms a year ago.
Tonight’s sale was the more impressive of the two—unlike Christie’s performance Tuesday night, Sotheby’s managed to best its high estimate, which was set at £112.6 million ($137.2 million). The long sale saw just four passes during the run through 58 lots—a strong sell-through rate of 93 percent.
Highlights included a protracted bidding war among multiple specialists for Gerhard Richter’s Eisberg (1982), which has been in the same private European collection since the year after it was made. The back-and-forth lifted the sale price to £17.7 million ($21.5 million), well over the high estimate of £12 million ($14.6 million). It was purchased by a client on the phone with specialist Shu Zheng.
The auction saw a number of new artists records as well. Carol Rama, Wolfgang Tillmans, Georg Baselitz, Pat Steir, and Franz Gertsch all achieved new marks, and there was also a new record for a Mark Rothko work on paper.
Though the passed lots were infrequent, the few that occurred must have stung. The first bust was Albert Oehlen’s FN 32 (1990), which failed to find a buyer after bidding stalled—whereas, at Christie’s last night, a Oehlen portrait not only sold, it set a new record. Another big pass was Jean Dubuffet’s L’Homme au Papillion (1954), which had a low estimate of £3 million ($3.65 million) that no bidder was able to breach.
But the sale was a success overall, completing a one-two punch that started with last night’s $117.7 million sale at Christie’s. The hefty totals from the sales—industry bellwethers for the rest of the season’s performance—will infuse the market with a shot of optimism as the art world continues on to Art Basel Hong Kong in a few weeks.
The London sales conclude with contemporary art day sales at Sotheby’s tomorrow, and Phillips on Friday.