Dominated by brand name and global market certified American artists, Sotheby’s London contemporary evening sale produced a rock solid and impressively strong result at £62,325,750/$79,783,193 representing a 20 percent uptick.
Only two of the 41 lots offered failed to sell for a svelte buy-in rate by lot of 4.9 percent.
The tally deftly hurdled pre-sale expectations of £44.26-60.6/$56.6-77.6 million.
The result beat last June’s £52,194,000/$69,350,168 same category sale for the 40 lots that sold and led by Jenny Saville’s record setting “Shift” that made £6.8/$9 million.
Sixteen of the 39 lots that sold made over a million pounds and 22 sold for over a million dollars.
One artist record was set.
There were sixteen financial guarantees listed with the appropriate symbols in the catalogue as well as last minute add-on announcements by auctioneer Oliver Barker in the salesroom, divided between house guarantees and third party or so-called irrevocable bids.
All prices reported include the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium for each lot sold, calculated at 25 percent of the hammer price up to and including £175,000, 20 percent on any amount above that and up to and including £2 million and 12.5 percent on any remaining amount above that.
Estimates do not include the premium.
The total hammer tally was £52.6/$67.35 million.
The evening got off to a competitive start with three telephone bidders chasing Louise Lawler’s “Anonymous,” a c-print in artist’s frame from 1991 capturing a corner of Seattle mega-collectors Bagley and Virginia Wright’s art filled home. It is number one from an edition of five that made £162,500/$208,016 (es.t £70-90,000).
Two successive red-hued and identically sized and titled abstract works by Joseph Albers, “Homage to the Square” from 1969 at 16 by 16 inches and executed in oil on Masonite sold to the same anonymous telephone bidder for £548,700/$702,455 (est. £280-350,000) and £512,750/$656,371 (est. £280-350,000).
Moving up in value, Donald Judd’s sleek and pristine, two-part “Untitled” wall relief from 1998, fabricated in aluminum and blue acrylic sheets sold for £1,148,750/$1,470,515 (est £800,000-1.2 million). It was backed by an irrevocable bid and recently appeared in a Gagosian Hong Kong exhibition.
The first of three Damien Hirst offerings, “Eight Over Eight” from 1997-98 and better known as one of his serial medicine cabinets, made up of glass, painted MDF, aluminum, metal pins, nickel-plated steel, sliding door lock and pharmaceutical packaging, sold to another telephone bidder for £728,750/$932,873 (est. 450-650,000). It was backed by a Sotheby’s guarantee.
It last sold at Sotheby’s storied “Damien Hirst: Pharmacy” sale in October 2004 for £162,400 when the contents of his closed restaurant went on the block.
On the increasingly rare to market Pop Art front Roy Lichtenstein’s Picasso-esque composition, “Two Paintings with Dado” from 1983 in oil and magna on canvas, scaled at 50 ¼ by 42 7/8 inches, realized £3,308,750/$4,235,531 (est. £2.4-3 million). It was backed by an irrevocable, so no drama in that regard.
It debuted at the Leo Castelli Gallery “Lichtenstein” exhibition in December 1983 and most recently appeared in Paris at the Grand Palais Galeries Nationales, “Picasso : Mania” in 2015-16.
Andy Warhol’s iconic and early “Self-Portrait” from 1963-64, a Times Square photo-booth image of the artist in sunglasses, tie and raincoat, making him appear like a James Bond like spy and set against a turquoise background, realized £6,008,750/$7691,801 (est. £5-7 million).
The 19 7/8 by 15 7/8 inch acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, one of a series of nine photo booth self-portraits in different hues, was the evening’s cover lot, backed by an irrevocable bid and owned by the anonymous seller since 1985.
A second Warhol, the petite yet dynamic 12 by 10 1/8 inch “Mao” from 1973, sold to another telephone bidder for £788,750/$1,009,679 (est. £600-800,000).
It last sold at Sotheby’s New York in September 2014 for $677,000.
Two large-scale, collaborative works by Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat from the collection of apparel mogul Tommy Hilfiger drew intense bidding interest as “Sweet Pungent” from 1984-85, executed in acrylic, oilstick and silkscreen ink on canvas and mostly dominated by Basquiat’s text lines and drawings against a yellow background, sold to the telephone for £4,433,750/$5,675,643 (est. £1.4-1.8 million).
“New Flame” from 1985, even larger at 79 1/8 by 106 1/8 inches and dominated by a deep purple background, sold to the telephone underbidder of the previous lot for £2,408,750/$3,083,441 (est. £1.7-2.2 million).
Both artists died within a year of one another just a few years later, with Warhol passing in 1987 at age 57 and Basquiat in 1988 at age 28.
“There’s room for these prices to grow,” said Alexander Branczik, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art, Europe, referring to works by the duo who separately have seen work sold at auction in excess of $100 million.
Basquiat’s stand alone triptych, “Untitled” from 1983 in acrylic and oilstick on canvas and scaled at 96 by 71 ¼ inches, took the top lot price, selling to yet another telephone bidder for £6,492,500/$8,311,049. New York dealer Christophe van de Weghe was part of the posse of underbidders
The text rich triptych, including the large capital letter sign “THE SUGAR INDUSTRY, CHEAP LABOR” last sold privately by the storied Zurich dealer Bruno Bischofberger who championed both Warhol and Basquiat, among others.
At least four bidders chased the Basquiat, three on the telephones and one bidder seated in the second row of the New Bond Street salesroom.
American artists were the drivers this evening as Keith Haring’s widely exhibited and early “Untitled” work from 198in day-glo enamel paint on metal shelving and featuring the glowing form of a pyramid, sold for £944,750/$1,209,374 (est. £600-800,000).
It was backed by an irrevocable bid though the insurance didn’t seem needed.
Other American breadwinners were Richard Prince’s large scale “School Nurse” from 2005, a blown up reprise of a semi-racy pulp fiction novel of the same title in acrylic and inkjet print on canvas, and standing at 70 by 49 inches that sold to another telephone bidder for £4,096,250/$5,243,610 (est. £3.5-4.5 million) and Mark Grotjahn’s prime and pristine “Untitled (White Butterfly MPG 03)” from 2003 in oil on linen that sold to another telephone for £3,983,750/$5,099,598 (est. £3-4 million).
The Prince was backed by an irrevocable bid and Grotjahn came to market ‘naked,’ auction parlance for old-fashioned, consigned works without backing.
On the European front, Gerhard Richter’s smallish, conceptually conceived and richly gestural abstraction, “Split (Rubble)” from 1989 at 44 ¼ by 40 1/8 inches sold to a telephone bidder for £3,871,250/$4,955,587 (est. £3.5-4.5 million).
Of a very different nature, Jean Dubuffet’s geological like composition in oil and collage, “Beret Rose” from 1956 and part of the artist’s important ”Tableaux d’assemblages” series, went to another telephone for an estimate busting £2,633,750/$3,371,463 (est. £1.2-1.8 million).
German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, currently the subject of a widely admired retrospective at the Beyeler Foundation in Switzerland elicited bidding ardor with his camera-less c-print in artist’s frame, “Freischwimmer #81” from 2005 and number one from an edition of one plus one artist’s proof that made a whopping £500,750/$641,010 (est. £80-120,000).
Even though the salesroom was packed by jet-setting dealers, advisors and collectors, the brunt of the action took place along the banks of telephones manned by Sotheby’s armada of client service advisors and contemporary art specialists.
The sole artist record was nabbed with Cecily Brown’s luscious and erotically charged “The Girl Who Had Everything” from 1998 in oil on canvas and ambitiously scaled at 99 5/8 by 110 inches that sold to another telephone for an estimate crushing £1,868,750/$2,392,187 (est. £800,000-1.2 million).
While the evening proved to be an unquestionable success, there was a distinct lack of London School titans such as Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud.
In that rarified realm, Frank Auerbach was the sole representative, with the richly impastoed and expressionistically distorted “Head of Gerda Boehm” in oil on paper and board from 1964-65 that sold for £992,750/$1,270,819 (£500-700,000).
The evening action culminates on Thursday at Phillips’ Berkeley Square salesroom and its sale of 20th Century and Contemporary art.
As previously observed, Sotheby’s arch-rival Christie’s has skipped this round, raising questions about the future of London contemporary sales in June.
“I have no intention,” said Sotheby’s Branczik, “to stop selling contemporary art in June.”