A Brawny Market Lifts Sales at Christie’s
Tracey Emin, "My Bed"

Tracey Emin, “My Bed”

LONDON — Despite a chronic fatigue generated by a seemingly endless half year of art fairs and auctions, the Post-War/contemporary art market surprisingly shifted into overdrive at Christie’s jam-packed salesroom Tuesday evening, realizing £99,413,500/$169,897,672. The result landed healthily midway between pre-sale expectations of £78.9-114.8/$134.9-196.3 million.

Estimates do not reflect fees and all prices quoted include the sliding scale buyer’s premium pegged at 25 percent of the final bid (a.k.a. hammer price) up to £50,000, 20 percent up to £100,000, 12 percent up to £1 million, and 10 percent for anything above that. Of the 75 lots offered tonight, 12 failed to sell for a respectable buy-in rate of 16 percent by lot.

Twenty-nine lots sold for over one million pounds and 38 made over one million dollars. Seven artist records were set, including two just 24 hours old. The tally hurdled past last June’s £70.2/$108.4 million result for 51 lots sold with a 20 percent buy-in rate by lot.

The evening got off to a swift start with (lot 1) Cindy Sherman’s black and white “Untitled Film Still, #25” from 1978, depicting the made-up and anxious looking artist posed on a bridge, which sold for £242,500/$414,433 (est. £100-150,000).

An amalgam of Italian offerings soon followed with (lot 4) Michelangelo Pistoletto’s mirror painting/self-portrait, “Amanti (Lovers)” from 1962-66, executed in painted tissue-paper on stainless steel, which sold for a record £2,322,500/$3,969,153 (est. £1-1.5 million). Milan dealer Nicolo Cardi and collector Dimitri Mavromatis were part of the posse of underbidders.

Enrico Donati’s (lot 5) “Superficie Bianca” in acrylic on shaped canvas from 1963, sold from the storied Morton Neumann Family Collection, made £626,500/$1,070,689 (est. £300,000-500,000).

Alberto Burri’s bubbling, volcanic (lot 6) “Rosso plastica” from 1968, in plastic, acrylic, vinyl, and combustion on cellotex realized £1,202,500/$2,055,073 (est. £700,000-1 million) and Lucio Fontana’s (lot 7) pristine, 10 vertically scored cuts, “Concetto spaziale, Attese,” painted in virginal white from 1965, sold to London’s Helly Nahmad Gallery for £6,018,500/$10,285,617 (est. £4-6 million).

Piero Manzoni’s (lot 9) kaolin on shaped canvas abstraction, “Achrome” from 1958-59, sold to a telephone bidder for £1,650,500/$2,820,705 (est. £1-1.5 million). It last sold at Sotheby’s London in October 2003 for £543,200/$908,209.

Other Post-War European abstraction works were also in keen demand with (lot 8) art star of the Nouveau Realisme movement, Yves Klein’s signature “Untitled blue monochrome (IKB 164)” from 1962, sold to Lock Kresler of the Dominique Levy Gallery for £2,042,500/$3,490,633 (est. £1.5-2 million).

Nicholas de Stael’s (lot 13) oil on canvas chromatic abstraction, “Composition-Paysage” from 1954, realized £1,538,500/$2,629,297 (est. £1-1.5 million) and a lunar-cratered landscape by (lot 58) Antonio Tapies, “Gran ocra amb incisions (Large Ochre with incisions” in mixed media on canvas from 1961 and hailing from the Viktor and Marianne Langen collection, sold to a telephone bidder for a record £1,650,500/$2,820,705 (est. £400-600,000).

The tempo accelerated to a frantic pace with Peter Doig’s striking and rather surreal, nighttime composition (lot 14) “Gasthof,” depicting two mustachioed men outfitted in elaborate 19th-century costumes from 2002-04, sold to Larry Gagosian for a record £9,938,500/$16,984,897 (est. £3-5 million).

One of the gentlemen is Doig, disguised in a theatrical costume and set against a fantastic evening landscape, resembling stoned runaways from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The background is based on a found German postcard from circa 1910. It shattered the 24-hour-old record set at Sotheby’s on Monday evening when “Country-rock (wing-mirror)” from 1999 sold for £8,482,500/$14,432,974.

“It’s one of three self-portraits that exist,” said Skarlet Smatana, the curator for the Athens-based George Economou Collection and the underbidder on the painting. “I can understand the value and the interest.”

A small group of works from Charles Saatchi, sold to benefit the Saatchi Gallery’s Foundation, also attracted intense market interest as (lot 15) Hurvin Anderson’s empty chaired but littered barbershop interior, “Afrosheen” from 2009, suitably large-scaled at 98 1/2 by 81 7/8 inches, rocketed to a record £1,314,500/$2,246,481, going to a telephone bidder. White Cube’s Jay Jopling was the underbidder (est. £300-400,000). It shot past the previous mark set at Sotheby’s on Monday evening when “Peter’s Sitters 3” from 2009, another barber shop themed composition, made £542,500/$923,064.

“We bid on the Hurvin Anderson,” said Guy Jennings, managing director of the London-based Fine Art Fund and a former top Impressionist and Modern specialist at Christie’s, “and thought we were brave [bidding] at £600,000.”

Jennings described the difference between the two evenings at Sotheby’s and Christie’s this way: “Christie’s seemed to have a little bit of fairy dust that eluded Sotheby’s.”

Jopling had better luck with another Saatchi offering, easily the most scandalous of the week as Tracey Emin’s gritty, indeed filthy and alcohol perfumed tableau/self-portrait, “My Bed” from 1998, including stained mattress, linens, pillows, and objects one doesn’t care to mention in a PG-rated, setting sold to the dealer for a record smashing £2,546,500/$4,351,969 (est. £800,000-1.2 million). Emin, who helped stage the piece at Christie’s, was in the audience, videotaping the bidding on her iPhone and looking more excited as the bids kept coming. The widely exhibited and written about bed is one of the iconic pieces of the bygone YBA era. It is understood that Saatchi acquired it from the Lehmann Maupin Gallery in New York in 2000 for approximately £150,000.

Non-Saatchi British entries included (lot 21) Glenn Brown’s Gothic styled “Led Zeppelin” from 2005, sold for £1,142,500/$1,952,533 (est. £1-1.5 million) and featuring a tiara clad and otherwise bejeweled female figure with a decidedly hairy chest. It somewhat takes after the on-stage, open shirt visage of Robert Plant, the band’s leader.

Apart from the Emin sensation, a guaranteed work by Francis Bacon from the estate of Roald Dahl, the extraordinary English author and creator of the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory tale, attracted another flash flood of bidding.

Bacon’s cover lot (lot 16) “Study for Head of Lucian Freud,” a 14 by 12 inch oil on canvas from 1967, presenting the figurative painter’s head almost unrecognizable in its explosive fury of thick brushstrokes, sold to someone standing at the very back of the sardine squashed salesroom for a hefty and top lot £11,506,500/$19,664,500 (est. in the region of £8-12 million). Dahl acquired it from the Marlborough Gallery that same year for £2,750 and lived with it until his death in 1990.

There are only two single canvas portraits of Freud, Bacon’s one-time close friend — they met in 1945 — and later estranged rival in Bacon’s oeuvre. The other resides in a private collection. Dahl eventually acquired four and possibly more Bacon works, and this portrait is the only one left in the estate. The two men of arts and letters, who apparently only met in passing, were much alike in their high-life taste for tobacco, drinking, and gambling.

Another prominent London School artist, (lot 17) Frank Auerbach, was represented by a large, 60 by 48 inch landscape, “Primrose Hill, Autumn” from 1979-80, richly colored and patinaed with the artist’s expressionist brushes, but it went unsold at a chandelier bid of £1 million (est. £1.2-1.8 million). The Auerbach last sold at Sotheby’s London in February 2005 for £388,800/$722,005.

Still on UK ground, Sir Howard Hodgkin’s (lot 49) color-packed abstraction, “Waterfall,” a small-scaled oil on panel from 1991-92, sold to the telephone for a robust £362,500/$619,513 (est. £150-200,000). London dealer Jonathan Green of Richard Green Gallery was the underbidder.

Of the four Gerhard Richter’s offered (lot 26), “Funfzehn Farben (Fifteen Colors),” a color chart painting from 1966-1996, sold to Lock Kresler of the Dominique Levy Gallery for £3,890,500/$ 6,648,865 (est. £3.5-4.5 million). The enamel paint on canvas series, apparently inspired by Richter’s visit to a Dusseldorf paint shop and passing racks of color charts, are notoriously fragile, though this 78 3/4 by 51 1/8 inch example, with 15 bricks of color, appears close-up as pristine.

A commanding (lot 44) Albert Oehlen figurative work, “Frühstück now (Self-Portrait)” from 1984, featuring the artist as a huge and disembodied sculpted head on a pedestal, made a record £1,082,500/$1,849,993 (est. £300-400,000).

On the American side of the pond, there were a half-dozen Andy Warhol paintings to choose from, including the third-party guaranteed (lot 29) “Self-Portrait,” from 1986 and part of his late, so-called fright-wig works, this one measuring 40 by 40 inches, sold to collector Dimitri Mavrommatis for £6,354,500/$10,859,841 (est. £6-9 million).

Warhol’s good friend and sometime collaborator, Jean-Michel Basquiat, was represented with a late, intensely busy graphic work, (lot 35) “Toxic” from 1984, scaled at 86 and 68 7/8 inches. It sold to Connecticut collector and art dealer David Rogath for £1,650,500/$2,820,705 (est. £1.2-1.8 million). The title refers to the artist’s close, club-going friend who is featured in the center of the canvas with brown arms and red hands raised high and wearing a blue broad brimmed hat.

Buttonholed outside the King Street salesroom on a balmy, still light night, Rogath observed, “I just thought it was so underpriced and liked it much better than the one that sold last night for a higher price. I was prepared to go much higher.” Rogath characterized Christie’s as an “excellent result.”

Formerly in the Mugrabi collection, the acrylic oil stick and Xerox collage on canvas last sold at auction in Paris in June 1999 in the pre-Euro era for $343,385.

A huge Keith Haring (lot 34) tarp painting in acrylic with metal grommets, “Tree of Life,” a kind of funky takeoff or reprise of Gustav Klimt’s 1905 frieze of the same title, went for £1,538,500/$2,629,297 (est. £1-1/5 million). It last sold at auction at Sotheby’s New York in November 2007, arguably the height of that roaring market period, for $2,169,000. That says a little something about the current market.

Speaking of which, secondary market heavyweight Christopher Wool continued to make breaking waves with (lot 32) “Untitled,” a huge, 108 by 72 inch enamel on aluminum painting with the black block lettered HA AH covering the snow white background. It sold for £6,242,500/$10,668,433 (est. £5.5-7.5 million).

Though not records, two other works showed the brawny strength of the current market as (lot 37) David Ostrowski’s “F (Dann lieber nein)” abstraction in oil and lacquer on canvas from 2011 unleashed a torrent of phone bidding, selling for £104,500/$178,591 and (lot 11) Roy Lichtenstein’s rare to market, tondo shaped canvas, “Mirror #8” in oil and Magna on canvas from 1971, sold to a telephone bidder for £1,986,500/$3,394,929. Larry Gagosian and private art advisor Amy Cappellazzo were part of the roster of underbidders.

The evening action resumes for a finale of the season at Phillips on Wednesday.

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