The global art market hit a high note at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary art evening sale on Thursday, registering an estimate busting £34.2 million ($43.5 million).
The tally motored past pre-sale expectations of £14.8-21.8 million, thanks to several super-charged lots. Only four of the 41 lots offered failed to sell for a trim fit buy-in rate by lot of 10 percent. The result came close to last October’s £35.5 ($55 million) sale for the 46 lots that sold. Four artist records were set in the first 10 minutes of the sale.
Conversely, the Italian Sale that immediately followed, a combination that Christie’s and Sotheby’s stage during London’s Frieze week, struggled. It brought in a total of £18.6 million ($23.7 million) for the 45 lots that sold. 14 failed to sell for a less convincing buy-in rate by lot of 24 percent. It lagged far behind last October’s £43.3 million ($67 million) result for the 53 lots that sold. The bigger gap in dollars is due to the sinking value of the British Pound post-Brexit.
Estimates do not include the buyer’s premium, calculated for each lot sold at 25 percent of the hammer (final bid) price up to and including £100,000, 20 percent on that part of the hammer price over that and up to £2 million and 12 percent for anything above that amount.
The evening got off to a running start with Lucie McKenzie’s time-lapse action painting, “Olga Korbut” from 1992, featuring the Olympic gymnast catapulting through space. It sold for a record £317,000 ($402,590) (est. £20-30,000). The work previously appeared in Saatchi Gallery’s mega exhibition, ‘The Triumph of Painting” in 2005.
Los Angeles painter Henry Taylor also made a noisy entry with “Walking with Vito” from 2008, a wide-angle street scene of two male figures and a huge dog passing by a Barack Obama campaign poster and an advert for “100% human hair wigs.” It fetched £137,000 ($173,990) (est. £40-60,000).
A large, 98 3/8-by-78 ¾-inch) figurative work by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, “Bound Over to Keep the Faith” from 2012, depicting a white-shirted seated male figure with a rope tied around his waist, went for an estimate crunching £209,000 ($265,436) (est. £80-120,000). Continuing in the figurative vein, Jonas Wood’s “Untitled (Downstairs)” from 2009, a multi-figured painting of women hanging above a decorated chest of drawers, went for £221,000 ($280,670) (est. £120-180,000).
A more menacing composition, Adrian Ghenie’s huge oil and acrylic “Nickelodeon” from 2008, which portrays a thickly impasto’d lineup of eight overcoat-draped male figures standing in a bare, barnlike interior, triggered intense bidding. It finally sold to an anonymous phone bidder for a record-shattering £7,109,000 ($9,028,430) (est. £1-1.5 million). The sale was backed by a third party guarantee, meaning an anonymous backer placed a minimum bid for the work before the auction, assuring its sale, which in hindsight seemed completely absurd. Although Christie’s didn’t identify the buyer, quarter market buzz pointed to the Japanese online retail magnate Yusaku Maezawa, the same person who famously bought Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1982 “Untitled” painting at Christie’s in May for a record-obliterating $57.3 million. That remains a speculative guess for anyone to challenge.
The Ghenie price eclipsed the previous mark set at Sotheby’s London last February when “The Sunflowers in 1937” from 2014 sold for £3,117,000 ($4,511,506).
On the sculpture front, Thomas Schutte’s dramatic cover lot, “Bronzefrau Nr. 13” from 2003, plunking the long-tressed bust of a female figure in bronze on a large steel table, sold to Los Angeles dealer and emerging artist power broker Stefan Simchowitz for £3,749,000 ($4,761,230) (est. £1.2-1.8 million).
An exceptional Albert Oehlen 1989 painting from lot 10, titled “Untitled (Statue of Liberty),” which vaguely resembles the monumental lady, made a record £1,325,000 ($1,682,750( (est. £500-700,000).
If there was any question about the uber performance, take note that 22 of the 41 lots that sold in this category met or exceeded the high estimate before the buyer’s premium was applied.
Though Christie’s cleverly banked on some younger and lesser-established artists whose work is hard to get, they also scored with Jean Dubuffet’s classic 1949 composition, “La Vie Agreste (The Rural Life),” whgich also went to Simchowitz —prominently seated and hard to miss at the front of the salesroom — for £2,629,000 ($3,338,830) (est. £1-1.5 million). Reached immediately after the marathon evening, Simchowitz sounded uncharacteristically modest, stating, “I bought a few things. The market is unbelievable — it’s healthy and not hysterical. People aren’t priced out like they were a year ago; it’s in within reach now.”
That seemed to be the case, at least for him, as he snagged a matching pair of Damien Hirst works — a triangular shaped butterfly painting, “Salvation” from 2003, which brought in £665,000 ($844,550) (est. £250-350,000); and “Damnation” from 2004, which sold to Simchowitz for £485,000 ($615,950.) For Hirst, this was a night of partial redemption.
Rare to market and seemingly outlier works also sparked competition, as evidenced by Gerald Laing’s Benday dot-patterned Pop Art masterwork, “Beach Wear” from 1964, which sold for a record £1,565,000 ($1,987,550). Remarkably, the painting has been in the same private collection since 1965, when the collector acquired it from New York dealer Richard Feigen who — perhaps even more remarkably, is still going strong in New York.
Other British entries included Bridget Riley’s obsessively striped work “Greensleeves” from 1983, which fetched £905,000 ($1,149,350) (est. £400-600,000); and David Hockney’s early tribal-looking “Figure in a Flat Style,” which brought in £785,000 ($996,950) (est. £300-500,000). Again, Christie’s strategy of offering come hither low estimates paid off or so it seemed.
Not everything felt like a homerun derby though. Cy Twombly’s poetic and madly scribbled “Untitled” from 1972, a rather stunning work in graphite and crayon on paper, sold for £2,629,000 ($3,338,830) (est. £1-1.5 million). It previously sold at Christie’s London in February 2014 for £2,322,500 ($2,860,000), at a time when the buyer’s premium was somewhat lower, indicting a wash for the seller despite its estimate crunching performance.
After a short recess, the Italian Sale commenced with less horsepower, though it did have some notable performances, including seven artist records in total. Among them, Gilberto Zorio’s Arte Povera-styled “Untitled” from 1967, a sculpture consisting of asbestos pipe, plaster, and cobalt chloride, brought in £281,000 ($356,870) (est. £70-100,000.)
The top lot honor went to another Arte Povera-era sculpture: Pino Pascali’s “Coda di Delfino (Tail of a Dolphin)” from 1966. Comprised of a shaped canvas stretched over a wooden structure, it soared to a record £2,629,000 ($3,338.830) (Est. £1.5-2 million). “Coda di Delfino” was first exhibited in Pascali’s solo show in Rome at Galleria l’Attico in 1966.
The evening action resumes on Friday at Sotheby’s, with another double-header Contemporary and Italian Sale.