Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale

Miquel Barceló (b. 1957), Pase de Pecho, signed, dated, dedicated and, titled ‘Barceló., VII – 90, Pour Cécile., Pase de pecho.’ (on the reverse), mixed media on canvas, 25 5/8 x 31 7/8in. (65 x 81cm.), Executed in 1990, Estimate: £1,000,000 – 1,500,000, Price Realized: £1,145,000/ $1,399,190/ €1,319,040

The recovering art market notched another big win at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art evening sale in London, tallying a bullish £96.4/$117.8 million.

Only two of the 59 lots offered failed to sell for a sliver thin buy-in rate by lot of five percent.

The result approached the high end of pre-sale expectations pegged at £67.45/$82.4 to £101.5/$123.8.

It topped last February’s auction in the same category that made £58,099,000/$84,301,649 for the 54 lots that sold, a whopping 65 percent increase.

Twenty-one works sold for over a million pounds and of those, three exceeded £10 million while 24 lots sold over a million dollars.

Impressively, seven artist records were set, mostly achieved by relatively ‘emerging’ artists with few appearances at the big league auctions.

All prices reported include the hammer price plus the stepped buyer’s premium calculated at 25 percent up to and including £100,000, 20 percent of that part of the hammer price over £100,000 and up to £2 million and 12 percent for anything above that.

Ten of the lots carried financial guarantees, three staked by the auction house alone and seven shared with anonymous third parties.

The evening got off to a nimble start with Wolfgang Tilmans’ large-scale, monochrome blue C print abstraction photograph, “Freischwimmer 186” from 2011 that sold for a record £269,000/$328,718 (est. £80-120,000).

It was a timely appearance given the artist’s critically acclaimed, multi-media exhibition currently on at Tate Modern.

Victor Vasarely’s optically challenging “Zebres (Zebras)” from 1932-42 and executed in oil on canvas, made £485,500/$592,670 (est. £250-350,000).

It last sold at auction at Sotheby’s London in October 2003 for £55,200.

Nigerian born figurative/mixed media painter and red hot sensation Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s image rich composition, “The Beautyful Ones” from 2012, comprised of acrylic, pastel, color pencil and Xerox transfer on paper and based in part on a Velasquez painting, hit a record £2,517,000/$3,075,744 (est. £400-600,000).

Six telephone bidders chased the prize.

Crosby’s dealer, London’s Victoria Miro Gallery only sells her work to museums so collectors have to wait for a secondary market appearance, further boosting her market allure.

Apparently, eighteen museums are on the waiting list and no doubt, more to follow.

It was also backed by a third party guarantee, assuring that unrequited backer a financial fee for the risk taken.

The painting shattered the previous mark set by “Drown” from 2012 that sold for $1,092,000 at Sotheby’s New York last November.

In a related figurative vein, Adrian Ghenie’s disturbing interior scene of a skeletal figure and his antlered prey, “The Hunter (study for Kaiser Wilhelm Institute)” from 2011 and executed in oil on canvas, sold to another telephone bidder for £1,805,000/$2,205,710 (Est. 500,000-700,000).

Still on the portraiture track, Albert Oehlen’s standing self-portrait from 2005, “Selbstportrat mit palette” in oil on canvas and featuring the bearded artist with a stunned look, brought a record £2,965,000/$3,623,230 (est. £2.5-3.5 million).

It also came to market backed by a third party guarantee.

On the American front, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s stark figure, pierced by an arrow, “Untitled” from 1982 in oil stick on paper and sold by Adam Clayton, the bass guitarist from U2, sold to another anonymous telephone bidder for £2,225,000/$2,718,950 (est. £1-1.5 million).

New York dealer Joe Nahmad of Nahmad Contemporary and New York/London Skarstedt Gallery were the underbidders.

It was also backed by a third party guarantee.

Clayton acquired the work from the Robert Miller Gallery in New York in 1990, two years after Basquiat’s death from a drug overdose at age 27.

A second Basquiat, larger in scale and comprised of acrylic, oilstick and silkscreen ink on canvas, “Alpha Particles” from 1984 and rich in text and hand wrought, scrawled images, went for £3,973,000/$4,855,006 (est. £2.5-3.5 million).

Andy Warhol’s ever familiar, “Four Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal series)” from 1979-1986 , executed in acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, went to another telephone bidder for an under-performing £2,853,000/$3,486,366 (est. £3-5 million).

It last appeared at auction at Sotheby’s New York in October 1989 when it sold for $467,500.

By contrast, a grandly scaled Alexander Calder hanging mobile, “Guava” from 1955, comprised of painted sheet metal, rod and wire and part of a major commission from a prominent Indian family that invited the artist to visi and work at their estate in Ahmedabad, sold to the Nahmad group for £4,533,000/$5,539,326 (Est. £3-5 million).

London dealer Pilar Ordovas, who exhibited the group (“Calder in India”) in 2012, was the underbidder.

Mark Rothko (1903-1970), No. 1 (1949), signed and dated ‘MARK ROTHKO 1949’ (on the reverse), oil on canvas, 78¼ x 38¾in. (198.8 x 98.4cm.), Painted in 1949, Estimate On Request, Price Realized: £10,693,000 / $13,066,846/ €12,318,336

Among the star, blue chip lots, the early and sublime cover lot Mark Rothko, “No. 1 (1949)” and more significant in that it was included in the artist’s break out solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York in 1950, realized a relatively tame £10,693,000/$13,066,846, going to yet another telephone bidder (unpublished estimate in excess of £8 million).

Of the dozen paintings in that 1950 exhibition, only three, including the present lot, remain in private hands, the rest in museum collections.

Of that private trio, Christopher Rothko, the artist’s son and keeper of the Rothko legacy would be an unlikely seller.

No. 1 was offered without a guarantee from the controversial collection of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev who acquired the painting in 2008 through private dealer and free port art storage tycoon Yves Bouvier who Rybolovlev is suing in several jurisdictions, claiming fraud and being overcharged some one billion dollars for the 38 works he acquired for some $2 billion through Bouvier, according to a Bloomberg report.

Rybolovlev reportedly paid $36 million for the Rothko.

It’s possible that the publicity about the ‘case’ affected the bidding.

The 78 ¼ inch high painting, contains the familiar rectangular, lozenge shapes of his mature work but in this example, retains traces of figurative elements in the center of the radiant canvas, infusing it with block like, interlocking shapes.

It was last exhibited in New York last year at the Emmanuel DiDonna Gallery in “Paths to the Absolute: Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian, Newman, Pollock, Rothko and Still.”

Christie’s devoted 18 richly illustrated pages of its telephone book thick catalogue to the painting, in case you didn’t realize its art historical importance.

American entries were strong performers as further evidenced by Robert Rauschenberg’s multi-imaged “Transom” from 1963,  in oil and silkscreen ink on canvas, that sold to yet another telephone bidder for £4,645,000/$5,676,190 (est. £4-6 million).

The timing of the offering, again, couldn’t be better, given the critically boosted Rauschenberg retrospective at Tate Modern.

On the German/Zero Group front, Gunther Uecker’s nail studded diptych,“Spirale 1” and “Spirale 2,” from 1997 and identically scaled at 78 ¾ by 78 ¾ inches sold for a record £2,629,000/$3,212,638 (est. £1-1.5 million).

The catalogue listed the diptych as two separate works (lots 51 & 52) and separate estimates but Uecker contacted Christie’s in time and corrected that mistake.

Peter Doig (b. 1959), “Cobourg 3 + 1 More”, signed twice, titled and dated ‘COBURG [sic] THREE PLUS ONE MORE PETER DOIG 1994 Peter Doig on CANVAS’ (on the reverse), oil on canvas
78½ x 98 3/8in. (200 x 250cm.), Painted in 1994, Estimate: £8,000,000 – 12,000,000
Price Realized: £12,709,000 / $15,530,398 / €14,640,768

Top lot honors went to Peter Doig’s whiteout snow scene, “Cobourg 3 + 1 More” from 1994, the title referring to the almost invisible figures standing in the foreground that made £12,709,000/$15,530,398 (est. £8-12 million).

The widely exhibited picture has been included in all of the major Doig shows, including the most important one at Tate Britain and retains its swirling presence at 78 ½ by 98 3/8 inches.

The seller acquired the work from the Victoria Miro Gallery in the year it was painted.

So far, eleven Doigs have sold for more than $10 million at auction, not a bad batting average for a living artist.

A second, decidedly smaller Doig, “Metropolitan (Stag)” from 2002-04, featuring a bearded figure with a resemblance to van Gogh and from the collection of Tiphane de Lussy and artist Dinos Chapman brought £485,000/$592,670 (est. £500-800,000).

Another modestly scaled offering, Lucian Freud’s meticulous still life, “Gorse Sprig” from 1944 in conte pencil and crayon on Ingres paper, sold to London private dealer Rory Howard for a chunky £701,000/$856,622 (est. £500-700,000).

It last sold at Sotheby’s London in February 2012 for £577,250.

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), Être et paraître (To Be and to Seem), signed and dated ‘1963 J. Dubuffet’ (lower left); signed again, titled and dated again “Être et paraitre J. Dubuffet juillet 63’ (on the reverse)oil on canvas 59 x 76¾in. (150 x 195cm.) Painted in 1963 Estimate: £7,000,000 – 10,000,000 Price Realized: £10,021,000 / $12,245,662 / €11,544,192

Rarer to market, Jean Dubuffet’s grandly scaled, intricately composed and color charged composition, “Etre et paraitre (To be and To seem)” from 1963 and harbored in the same collection since 1984, sold to the Nahmad clan for £10,021,000/$12,245,662 (est. £7-10 million).

Though appearing at first puzzle-piece like and abstract, the composition includes a medley of rushing figures embedded in the chaos.

At least three bidders chased the Dubuffet, including Brett Gorvy, former Christie’s rainmaker who joined forces with dealer Dominque Levy earlier this year to form Levy-Gorvy.

On a calmer note, David Hockney’s van Gogh like homage, “Sunflowers in a Yellow Vase” from 1996 and measuring 48 by 36 inches, realized a rather wilting £1,805,000/$2,205,710 (est. £1.5-2.5 million).

The artist is currently enjoying yet another crowd drawing retrospective at Tate Britain, the largest survey to date (through May 29) but this entry didn’t bloom.

Of the first of three Miquel Barcelo bullfight scene paintings to be offered this week with “Pase de Pecho” from 1990 and bearing thick patches of paint escaping past the picture frame edge brought £1,145,000/$1,399,190 (est. £1-1.5 million).

The storied series, featuring the lone toreador with red cape, a charging bull and packed arena, includes some thirty works and 10 percent of them are on offer this week.

The action resumes late tomorrow afternoon with back-to-back contemporary art sales at Phillips and Sotheby’s.

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