The art market juggernaut continued its seemingly unstoppable ride as Christie’s London Post-War and Contemporary Art evening sale snared an effortless £117.1/$178.4 million tally. Only five of the 62 lots offered failed to sell for a razor-thin buy-in rate by lot of eight percent. The tally fell comfortably midway between pre-sale expectations of £92.9-132.1/$141.6-201.2 million.
Estimates do not reflect the added on buyer’s premium to the hammer price, calculated at 25 percent up to £50,000, 20 percent for anything over £50,000, and up to one million pounds and 12 percent for anything above that figure. Christie’s fees at the moment are slightly lower than archrival Sotheby’s, which boosted its premium earlier this year.
Twenty-four lots sold for over a million pounds and 38 made over a million dollars. Three artist records were set.
The result trailed last February’s £124.1/$206.1 million performance for the 40 lots that sold and though robust, did not attain the fireworks shot off at Sotheby’s on Tuesday evening.
The sale kicked off with several examples of sought after younger artists primed for future blue chip status, including (lot 1) R.H. Quaytman’s “Exhibition Guide, Chapter 15 (Diagonal Pink),” a conceptual work in silkscreen ink and gesso on wood from 2009 that made £110,500/$168,292 (est. £60-80,000).
In that same emerging star vein, (lot 2) Oscar Murillo’s large-scale and scruffily marked “Untitled” from 2011 in oil, oil stick, graphite, and dirt on canvas went for £218,500/$332,776 (est. £100-150,000) and Chicago-based Theaster Gates’s (lot 3) coiled, six-part wall relief, “For Race Riots and Salon Gathering” from 2011, comprised of found wood, glass, and decommissioned fire hoses, brought a record £242,500/$369,328 (est. £250-350,000).
European artists affiliated with the recently market resurgent Zero Group, the subject of a major exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York last fall, included (lot 4) Gunther Uecker, whose nail studded canvas, “Inseln (Island)” from 1964, sold for £722,500/$1,100,368 (est. £350-450,000) and (lot 5) Yves Klein, whose fabulously pink “Sculpture eponge rose (SE 207)” from 1959 — one of the artist’s cosmic colors saturating an orb of mounted sponge on a stone base — made £1,874,500/$2,854,864 (est. £600-800,000). The Uecker last sold at Sotheby’s London in February 2011 for £253,250 and the Klein sold at the same house in June 1986 for £25,000.
Another Zero Group star, Lucio Fontana’s precisely cut “Concetto Spaziale, Attese” from 1965 (lot 6) and bearing three vertical slashes on a white ground, sold to international dealer David Nahmad for £2,042,500/$3,110,728 (est. £1-1.5 million). A second Fontana — there were five offered — “Concetto Spaziale, Attese” from 1964 (lot 9) and bearing one vertical slash in the center of the monochromatic red composition, also went to Nahmad for £1,762,500/$2,684,288 (est. £400-600,000).
As evidenced at Sotheby’s on Tuesday evening, European artists mostly dominated the high-octane mix at Christie’s King Street salesroom as Gerhard Richter’s luminous and photo-based oil on canvas seascape, “Vierwaldstatter See (Lake Lucerne)” from 1969, brought £15,762,500/$24,006,288 (unpublished estimate in the region of £10 million). Another Richter of a different stripe, (lot 31) “Karmin (Carmine),” a sumptuously textured abstraction from 1994, sold in the salesroom for £9,602,500/$14,624,608 (est. £9-14 million).
The notable exception to Europe’s dominance was the top lot (lot 26) and back cover masterwork, Cy Twombly’s elegantly looping blackboard painting “Untitled (New York City)” from 1970, composed in oil based house paint and wax crayon on canvas. It sold via a telephone that was manned by Xin Li, the firm’s client service star and deputy chairman of Christie’s Asia, for £19,682,500/$29,976,448 (unpublished estimate in the region of £16 million). It last sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 2012 for $17.4 million, and though guaranteed by Christie’s this round, probably not a long enough gestation for a killer return. Remarkably, according to Christie’s, 25 percent of the sold lots went to Asian bidders, out-gunning American buyers, who historically dominate.
Another Twombly (lot 35), the handprint marked and graffiti scrawled “Death of Pompey (Rome)” from 1962 in oil and graphite on canvas, sold to another anonymous telephone bidder for more a modest £4,338,500/$6,607,536 (Est. £4-6 million).
American Pop Art was in tight supply as (lot 11) Andy Warhol’s iconic “Self-Portrait” from 1966 in acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas and featuring the pensive subject with raised fingers pressed against his lips realized £3,666,500/$5,584,080 (est. £2.5-3.5 million). It also was backed by a Christie’s guarantee and momentarily looked as if it might need it since it last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2013 for $5,219,750.
One-time Warhol protégé and collaborator, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s prime year, 1982 composition (lot 45) “Three Delegates” in acrylic, oil stick, and collage on canvas is roughly reminiscent of both Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon. The fierce, tribal-like heads sold to New York dealer Jose Mugrabi for £4,394,500/$6,692,824 (est. £5-7 million).
London School painters also made waves as (lot 17) Francis Bacon’s powerful male figure in spectacles, “Study for a Head” from 1955 and protected behind its glass and gold hued frame, sold to another telephone bidder for £10,050,500/$15,306912 (unpublished estimate in the region of £9 million). Considered a part of his imposing and magisterial papal series from the 1950s, the subject isn’t saintly but obviously wields power.
One-time Turner Prize winner Sir Howard Hodgkin made a new mark with (lot 20) “In the Green Room” from 1984-86, a color-charged and patterned abstraction in oil on wood that sold to a telephone bidder for a record £1,202,500/$1,831,408 (est. £550-750,000).
“It must be double the record,” said London dealer James Holland-Hibbert, who chased the painting to its high estimate. “I bid quite strongly but I had a hunch I wouldn’t get it.”
Rebecca Warren, another Turner Prize winner, scored well with (lot 59) “OO,” a hand painted bronze on painted MDF plinth and vaguely resembling one of Degas’s stunted dancers. It sold for £290,500/$442,432 (est. £80-120,000).
Former YBA (Young British Artist) star Tracey Emin’s (lot 24) “Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made,” comprised of an installation made up of 105 paintings, body paintings, and works on paper as well as other objects, went to a fan for £722,500/$1,100,368 (est. £600-800,000). It last sold at Christie’s London in February 2001 for £108,250.
Throughout the sale, Jussi Pylkkanen, the assured auctioneer and president of Christie’s Europe, glided through the offerings as a skipper might at the helm of a powerful, state of the art yacht. That sensibility was in sharp contrast to the Spartan character in Jean Dubuffet’s charming Post-War composition (lot 44) “Bedouin sur l’ane (Bedouin on a donkey)” from 1948, executed in oil and mixed media on canvas laid down on board. It sold for a peppy £2,658,500/$4,048,896 (Est. £1.3-1.8 million). David Nahmad was the underbidder. It came from the family of the original owner, who acquired the work in 1958.
The evening action concludes on Thursday at Phillips’s swanky new salesroom on Berkeley Square.