LONDON — Though largely absent of fireworks and stung by a quartet of unsold Gerhard Richter paintings, the art market maintained its steady course at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary art evening sale that tallied £95.6/$150 million.
The result fell securely midway between pre-sale expectations of £82.25-117/$ 129-183.7 million for the 66 lots that sold. Ten of the 76 lots offered failed to sell for a brisk 13 percent buy-in rate by lot. Tonight’s result slightly trailed last July’s £99.4/$169.9 million result for the 63 lots sold.
Twenty-four lots sold for over a million pounds and 36 sold for over one million dollars. Of those, two Francis Bacon works exceeded £10 million. More impressively on that crowded scorecard, six artist records were set.
The sale included financial guarantees for 15 lots, with 10 fully backed by Christie’s and five arranged by anonymous third-party backers. Prices reported include the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium for each lot sold, calculated at 25 percent up to and including £50,000, 20 percent on that part of the hammer price up to and including £1 million, and 12 percent on that part of the hammer price for anything over £1 million. Estimates do not reflect the buyer’s premium.
The sale began with Jeff Elrod’s blurry abstraction “Echo Painting” in UV ink on canvas from 2013, which attracted five bidders and sold for a record £218,500/$342,827 (est. £80-120,000), followed by Danh Vo’s “Untitled (A-Z without J)-E” from 2011, a gold leafed cardboard shipping box that sold to London’s White Cube Gallery for the identical price as the Elrod (est. £150-200,000).
Brent Wadden’s two-part, geometric patterned “Alignment (13)” from 2013, executed in hand-woven fibers, wool, cotton, and acrylic on canvas, sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for a record £122,500/$192,203 (est. £30-50,000).
The price points jumped with a group of works from the collection of Lord and Lady Jacobs, as Alexander Calder’s late “Trois cercles, bleu, jaune, rouge (Three Circles, Blue, Yellow, Red)” from 1972, in painted sheet metal and wire, sold for £458,500/$719,387 (est. £250-350,000). Still in the Jacobs’ terrain, Morris Louis’s bold, color striped abstraction “Number 36” from 1962, in acrylic on canvas and scaled at 83 7/8 by 38 3/8 inches, unleashed a bidding war and eventually sold to the telephone for £1,538,500/$2,413,907 (est. £500-700,000), and Roy Lichtenstein’s crisply composed table top still life “Apples, Grapes, Grapefruit” from 1974, in oil and Magna on canvas, sold to William Acquavella of New York’s Acquavella Galleries for £2,098,500/$3,292,547 (est. £1.8-2.5 million). The Louis last sold at Christie’s New York in November 1995 for $178,000. The eight Jacobs offerings were 100 percent sold and realized £6.9 million/$10.9 million compared to combined pre-sales estimates of £4.1-5.75 million.
On a different market track, with the five Gerhard Richter offerings, ranging from 1969 to 1995 and with estimates from £800,000 to £6 million, there was seemingly something for everyone by Europe’s most expensive living artist. Oddly, to put it mildly, only one of the five sold. “Seestuck (Oliv bewolkt) (Seascape (with Olive Clouds)” from 1969, in oil on canvas, was the only survivor and made a tepid £1,538,500/$2,413,907 (est. £2-3 million). The seascape has been in the same family collection since the early 1970s.
Another photo-based work by Richter, “Baume im Feld (Trees in Field)” from 1988, depicting a sunny countryside vista, and already owned by Christie’s, according to the printed symbol in the catalogue, died at a chandelier bid £3.8 million (est. £4-6 million).
When asked about the seeming Richter market burnout after the sale, Brett Gorvy, Christie’s chairman and international head of Post-War and Contemporary art, attributed it to the relative darkness of the pictures on offer and their more intellectually demanding content. It’s “not where the market is strongest,” he said. “New buyers prefer more decorative, more colorful works.”
Sigmar Polke, Richter’s East German painting colleague who co-invented Capitalist Realism and a one-time friendly rival, had better luck with four works on offer dating from 1969-1992, with price points from £120,000 to £4.5 million. Polke’s “Mondlandscaft mit Schilf (Moonlit landscape with reeds)” from 1969, in dispersion on two different types of found fabrics, sold to the telephone for £3,890,500/$6,104,195 (est. £3.5-4.5 million) and the larger-scaled, cowboy-centric image, “Ik Mach Dass Schon Jess (I’ll take care of it, Jess) from 1972, executed in acrylic, dispersion, and chalk on felt, made £2,770,500/$4,346,915 (est. £2-3 million). The earlier Polke was backed by a Christie’s guarantee.
Another German entry, Martin Kippenberger’s humor-flecked self-portrait “Untitled (from the Hand-Painted Picture Series)” from 1992, featuring a thickly calf-muscled artist in cycling shorts and wielding a pen or paintbrush, brought £2,882,500/$4,522,643 (est. £2.5-3.5 million).
On the British/Irish front, “Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne and George Dyer,” Francis Bacon’s intensely matched portraits, each measuring 14 by 12 inches and dated 1967, attracted four bidders and sold to a telephone manned by a Chinese-speaking client specialist for the evening’s top lot at £12,178,500/$19,108,067 (est. £8-12 million). New York art advisor Sandy Heller was part of the posse of underbidders. The works, capturing two of Bacon’s closest intimates and both set against an emerald hued background, were included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2009 retrospective. It is the first of only 10 diptychs the artist created in his lifetime. Rawsthorne remained a trusted friend and muse throughout Bacon’s lifetime while his lover George Dyer committed suicide on the eve of Bacon’s retrospective in Paris at the Grand Palais in 1971. The diptych was offered but went unsold at Art Basel in 2014, when it was exhibited at the Acquavella Galleries’ stand in Basel.
Bacon’s van Gogh-like “Two Men Working in a Field,” a much larger single painting from 1971 measuring 78 by 58 inches, sold to Moscow dealer Gary Tatintsian, seated towards the front of the salesroom, for £10,722,500/$16,823,603 (est. £7-10 million.). The picture last sold at Christie’s London in June 2007 for £5 million. Neither of the Bacons carried financial guarantees.
Pushing forward to the ’90s, YBA star Jenny Saville’s massive and still shocking transvestite nude “Matrix,” from 1999, brought £782,500/$1,227,743 (est. £650-850,000), while Chris Ofili’s infamous “Sensation” show entry that almost shut down the Brooklyn Museum when it was exhibited there in 1998, “The Holy Virgin Mary” in acrylic, oil, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter, map pins, and elephant dung on linen from 1996, fetched a record £2,882,500/$4,522,643 (est. £1.4-1.8 million).
In that same YBA vein, Damien Hirst’s 144 inch tondo spinning work “Beautiful mis-shapen purity clashing excitedly outwards painting” from 1999, comprised of household paint on canvas and motor, made £542,500/$851,183 (£500-700,000).
All of the above plus another YBA work by Jake and Dinos Chapman, “Great Deeds Against the Dead” from 1994, which sold to Jay Jopling of White Cube for a record £422,500/$662,903 (est. £400-600,000), hail from the privately owned Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, founded by David Walsh in 2011. The MONA group was also 100 percent sold and tallied £4.6/$7.26 million, versus combined pre-sale expectations of £2.95-3.95 million.
Back to America, of the three Andy Warhol offerings, “Five Deaths” from 1963, a stunning though unsigned single panel work from his iconic Death and Disaster series, fetched £3,890,500/$6,104,195 (est. £2.2-2.8 million). The newspaper sourced grisly image of an overturned car with its bloodied crash victims is frozen in time with its all-over blood red hued vista. The anonymous consignor acquired it in 2006 from the Gagosian Gallery, according to the catalogue entry.
Other high-value American artist lots included Christopher Wool’s patterned and yellow hued abstraction “Mad Cow” from 1997, in enamel on aluminum, which sold for £3,442,500/$5,401,283 (est. £4-6 million). The Wool last sold at auction at Christie’s London in February 2013 for £2,281,250. According to the Christie’s catalogue, it is one of only four works by the artist rendered in color.
Post-War Italian art was also on offer, with Alberto Burri’s burnt mixed-media work “Blanco plastica P” from 1970, which sold to New York art advisor Todd Levin for £2,210,500/$3,468,275 (est. £2-3 million). The Burri was backed by a third party guarantee, one of five third party guarantees in the evening.
Alighiero Boetti’s embroidered “Mappa” from 1990, featuring his multi-colored and map symbol rich canvas, went to New York art advisor Abigail Asher of Guggenheim Asher for £1,535,500/$2,413,907 (est. £1.1-1.5 million).
“I think Boetti Mappas are icons of 20th-century art,” said Asher, moments after her purchase for a private American client, “and there’s certainly room for that market to grow and for those prices to increase.”
Confounding almost any category, Yves Klein’s other-worldly abstraction “peinture de feu couleur sans titre, (FC 27),” or so-called “fire color paintings” from 1962, executed in the last year of his life in dry pigment, synthetic resin, and varnish on a flame licked board and housed in the artist-made frame, sold to Scarlet Smatana of the Athens’ based George Economou Collection for £5,906,500/$9,267,299 (unpublished estimate in the region of £5 million). It also was backed by a third party guarantee.
Though younger artists have largely vanished from the big-ticket item evening sales and are relegated to day sale status, or placed at the very beginning of the evening sales as mentioned earlier, there are some notable exceptions. R.H. Quaytman’s “Contructivismes, Chapter 13,” from 2004-09, an intellectually challenging, carefully compartmentalized shelving unit construction in silkscreen ink and gesso on wood, made a record £578,500/907,667 (est. £300-500,000). Jay Jopling was the underbidder.
The evening action resumes for its final round of the season on Wednesday at Sotheby’s, where three major Francis Bacon paintings await their fate.