Christie’s Kicks Off Frieze Week in London
Back to back, tightly edited sales of contemporary and modern art, photography and design at Christie’s King Street salesroom in London on Tuesday evening served as a kind of kick-off for the big Frieze art fair week and paid off handsomely to the combined tune of £21.9/$29.1 million.
The separate catalogue “Masterpieces of Design & Photography” realized £7.45/$9.87 million with only five of the 35 lots offered failing to sell for a trim buy-in rate by lot of 14 percent.
That tally came close (after fees) to the high end of pre-sale expectations pegged at £5.3-8.1 million.
With barely an intermission, Christie’s curated and one-off “Up Close” auction, featuring 35 small scaled works by world class and assuredly blue chip artists brought £14.53/$19.25 million and registered a near perfect buy-in rate by lot of six percent for the 33 lots that sold.
It easily eclipsed the £8.7-12.5 million pre-sale estimate.
As pointed out by Christie’s in a post-sale release, the sales totals reflect the hammer price plus buyer’s premium but do not reflect “costs, third-party financing fees or application of buyer’s or seller’s credits.”
That eye-brow arching proviso speaks volumes to the increasingly complex and opaque deal making that goes on behind the scenes at the major houses.
That said, the following highlights and bespoke descriptions convey a snapshot of the evening and a prelude to the week’s gauntlet of contemporary art sales.
Highlights from “Masterpieces of Design & Photography”
Irving Penn’s color charged “Cottage Tulip: Sorbet, New York,” a dye transfer print from 1967, photographed from below to accentuate the purple hued flower and green stem, sold for £260,750 (est. £60-80,000).
The work was part of a Vogue magazine commission from super-editor Diana Vreeland and led Penn to comment, “…a flower must be photographed at its moment of unblemished, nubile perfection.”
It is believed the flower was no ordinary entry but sourced from the Virginia private gardens of Mrs. Paul Mellon.
The image is part of an edition of sixteen and as the catalogue notes, another print resides in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Andreas Gursky’s billboard scaled, 82 by 200 inch “May Day IV” from 2000, a chromogenic print face-mounted to Plexiglas in artist’s frame and depicting the gyrations and abandon of a German underground rave scene, shimmied to £758,750/$1,006,344 (est. £500-700,000).
The pulsating image was chosen by Gursky for the front cover catalogue of his 2001-02 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art that was curated by Peter Galassi.
Another version from the edition of six sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 2005 for $632,000.
In a startling different vein, Robert Mappelthorpe’s ghostly and still disturbing “Self-Portrait,” a platinum print from 1988 and photographed shortly before his death at age 42 from AIDS, made a record £548,750/$727,094 (est. £300-500,000).
The impeccably staged composition, featuring the cropped view of the emaciated artist facing the viewer in a black turtleneck and gripping the shaft of his skull headed cane is also a searing portrait of that plague.
It is number three from an edition of three plus one artist’s proof.
The J. Paul Getty Museum and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum own the other two platinum prints.
On the design front, Carlo Mollino’s grand and rare dining set, designed and manufactured for the Italian Alpine ski resort and luxury residence, Casa de Sole, Cervinia and comprised of a rectangular table and six high-backed chairs in oak, chestnut and brass bolts brought an estimate breaking £668,750/$886,094 (est. £300-500,000).
Mollino’s edgy and innovative style, with the chair back hardware and placement of the cinched vertical slats resembling in part the fantasy of a woman’s corset, places him at the pinnacle of Mid-century European design.
Marc Newson’s instantly iconic “A Lockheed Lounge” from a 1985-88 design and executed in fiberglass reinforced polyester resin core, blind-riveted sheet aluminum and painted polyester resin, took top lot honors and fetched £1,568,750/$2,078,594 (est. £1-1.5 million).
Inspired in part by the early days of pop-riveted airplane design, the streamlined chaise is the ultimate design trophy, with this example as number seven from an edition of ten plus four artist proofs (all with black feet).
It last sold at Christie’s London in October 2007 for a then record £748,500/$1,515,713.
The Lockheed Lounge also ranked at that time as the most expensive work at auction for a living designer.
The current Newson record stands for another Lockheed Lounge from the edition that made £2,434,500/$3,730,462 at Phillips London in April 2015.
Highlights from “Up Close”
Provenance played a major role in the top-lot Alberto Giacometti bronze, “Homme (Apollon),” conceived in plaster in 1929 and cast in 1954 in an edition of six that brought a bullish £3,488,750/$4,622,594 (est. £800,000-1.2 million).
The 15 ¾ inch high, Surrealist inspired, bronze bearing a lustrous, golden brown patina, and resembling in part an ancient Cycladic figure, hailed from the private collection of the late Spanish Post-War master Antoni Tapies who acquired it from London’s Waddington Gallery in 1993.
It came to market backed by a third party guarantee.
Another petite scaled work lacked the bidding bang of the Giacometti but still got by as Andy Warhol’s 11 1/8 by 6 inch “Coke Bottle” from 1962, executed in silk screen ink, acrylic and ballpoint pen on linen went for £1,928,750/$2,556,594 (est. £1.8-2.5 million).
The Baerfaxt identified the buyer as London advisor Hugo Nathan of Beaumont Nathan.
“Yes, we did buy the Warhol coke bottle, for a private collector,” said Nathan in an e-mail.
“We absolutely loved it- An iconic Pop Art image, from a pivotal Pop date,” continued Nathan.
“The coke bottles are actually incredibly rare, and so much of this one was hand-painted. I also loved the small scale, as it is effectively life size! Basically everything you want in a Warhol, and at a clever price.This kind of museum calibre object at a sensible price is exactly the kind of opportunity that we like to find for our clients!”
Though stamped, not signed with Warhol’s signature and bearing the authentication inscription of Warhol’s longtime business manager, the late Frederick Hughes, the cover lot painting is listed in Volume 01 of the ongoing Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne project.
The footnote in that listing pointed to the vintage stretcher of the painting stamped “The Little Gallery” and the unusual nature of the painting in that Warhol made a blue ballpoint outline under the paint layer that was unique in his Coca-Cola bottle series.
The work has never appeared at auction and the seller acquired it from the Michael Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles back in 1988.
It was first owned by the early Warhol champion, the late art dealer Martin Blinder.
There’s no telling what it would have made if Warhol signed this significant little work.
Of the few British entries, Lucian Freud’s stunning, canine portrait, “Pluto” from 1988 and executed in oil on canvas, brought £908,750/$1,204,094 (est. £400-600,000).
The portrait depicts the artist’s beloved whippet, so named Pluto, peacefully napping when she was a puppy.
The provenance was listed in the catalogue as “a gift from the artist to the present owner.”
It turned out to be quite a generous present.