Given the cautious state of the current art market, predicting the prospects for London’s June auctions is difficult, to say the least. In the days leading up to the sales, we’ll be previewing the works in each that seem to hold particular promise. Here are some to look for on June 28 in the Sotheby’s Contemporary Art sale. (Data in graphs are based on hammer prices as reported by the BLOUIN ART SALES INDEX.)
In its June 28 sale, Sotheby’s is banking on unabated demand for large paintings by Romanian-born artist Adrian Ghenie. This is evidenced by the estimate of £400,000 to £600,000 ($587-880,000) that the house has given Ghenie’s 2010 painting “The Hunted,” a blurry yet unmistakable Bacon-esque image of a baboon, set against what appears to be a birch forest. The symbol-rich work, in which the ape seems to represent both predator and prey, was inspired by the artist’s experience growing up during the reign of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and evokes the murderous Nazi regime as well as the escape route taken by many of its high-ranking perpetrators. The title is taken from the exhibition of Ghenie’s works first mounted at Galerie Judin in Berlin in 2010 and then at Haunch of Venison in London in 2011. Ghenie’s larger “The Sunflowers in 1937,” 2014, sold at Sotheby’s London this past February for an artist record £3,117,000 ($4.5 million), double his previous mark, against an identical estimate of £400,000 to £600,000 ($587-880,000). Commenting on Ghenie’s great appeal, Alex Branczik, European head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, says the February sale “reflected the phenomenal depth of bidding all over the world.”
In a more classic vein, the house is offering a small 1961 Cy Twombly abstraction, “Untitled (Rome),” executed in oil, pencil, and wax crayon on canvas and estimated at £600,000 to £800,000 ($874,000-1.17 million). The sketchy graffiti homage to the likes of the 17th-century Nicolas Poussin masterpiece in the Louvre that Twombly has long admired calls for a sophisticated buyer who can appreciate that lost world and the artist’ obsession with it.
The sale presents evidence that figurative work is making a comeback after being eclipsed during the recently elapsed zombie formalism phase. This is illustrated by the estimate of £450,000 to £650,000 ($656-948,000) carried by the large Neo Rauch painting “Gut gut (Good Good),” from 1999. Featured in the artist’s first retrospective in 2001 after debuting in a solo show at the David Zwirner gallery in New York in 2000, the painting features one of the artist’s sturdy workers industriously engaged in surveying a plot of land. The figure and sensibility refer to the now long-past East German Communist society that apparently played a major part in Rauch’s dream world, re-created here in a surreal mix of Pop art and Socialist Realism.
Another figurative painter and sought after artist from David Zwirner’s stable, Marlene Dumas also has a work on offer. “The Peeping Tom,” 1994, which borrows its title and imagery from Michael Powell’s 1960 film, and is emblematic of her preoccupation with the nude and with rendering existing images. The work, estimated at £350,000 to £450,000 ($511–649,000), has gone up at auction twice before: first in 2004, when it sold for £139,650 ($253,185), and in 2010, when it brought £373,250 ($586,749) — in both cases, approximately doubling its estimate.
Graphs by Meghana Reddy; source: Blouin Art Sales Index