The global art market scored another resounding round of almost delirious confidence building at Sotheby’s contemporary evening sale that delivered an estimate busting £118/$143.7 million.
Only four of the 61 lots failed to sell for a wafer thin buy-in rate by lot of 6.6 percent.
The tally shot past pre-sale expectations of £80.9-112.6/$98.5-137.2 million.
The result also vaulted past last February’s £69.5/$100.4 million London total, exceeding the value by 69 percent in pounds sterling (due in large part to the currency change) and 43 percent by dollar.
Twenty-six lots sold for over a million pounds and of those, five exceeded £5 million and 28 sold for over one million dollars.
Five artist records were set.
Fifteen of the lots offered were backed by financial guarantees, four solely by Sotheby’s and eleven by third parties described by the house as “irrevocable bids.”
Of those, the only casualty was Albert Oehlen’s big abstraction, “FN 32” from 1990 (est. £800,000-1.2 million), backed by Sotheby’s and bought in, becoming property of the auction house.
All prices reported include the hammer price for each lot sold plus the stepped buyer’s premium calculated at 25 percent of the hammer price up to and including £175,000, 20 percent of any amount in excess of that and up to and including £2 million and 12.5 percent for anything exceeding that figure.
Estimates do no reflect the buyer’s premium.
The evening began on the animated buzz of arch-rival Christie’s announcing major changes in the way it conducts its global business including shuttering its South Kensington operation, shrinking its Amsterdam salesroom and devoting more resources to online auctions and its expanding operations in Asia and the West Coast.
Back in the salesroom, Carol Rama’s striking “Arcadia (Ti amo…ti amo)” from 1975, elegantly comprised of leatherette and iron hook with bicycle inner tubes and metal plate, sold for a record £236,750/$288,362 (est. £70-100,000).
It broke the record set at Christie’s 24 hours earlier.
Wolfgang Tilmans’s large-scaled “Freischwimmer 119” from 2005, a chromogenic print in an edition of one (plus one artist’s proof) made a record £464,750/$566,066 (est. 80-120,000) and Gerhard Richter’s [lot 3] small-scaled, 36 by 26 3/8 inch “Abstraktes Bild (654-4)” from 1988 and executed in oil on canvas, attracted a frenzy of bidding on the telephones and in the room, racing to £3,983,750/$4,852,208 (est. £1.5-2 million).
The German cavalcade and heavy artillery continued with Georg Baselitz’s “Mit Roter Fahne (With Red Flag)” from 1965, a major figure painting depicting the archetypal heroic figure barefoot and marching with a red flag and clenched fist full of paint brushes. It sold for a record £7,471,250/$9,099,982 (est. £6.5-8.5 million).
It surpassed the billboard scaled “Der Bruckechor (The Brucke Chorus)” from 1983 that sold at Christie’s New York in November 2014 for $7,445,000.
Still, the Baselitz was backed by an irrevocable bid and presumably went to that bidder since it only attracted a single bid.
Another star German lot captured the ardor of multiple bidders as Gerhard Richter’s cinematic meditation, “Eisberg” from 1982, based on a photograph the artist took during a trip to Greenland in 1972. It fetched the top lot price of the evening as well as the most expensive lot of the week at £17,708,750/$21,569,258 (est. £8-12 million)
Richter made three paintings based on that trip and his series of photographs, all influenced by Casper David Friedrich’s iconic “The Sea of Ice” from circa 1823-24 and this example is the only one remaining in private hands.
Three of the telephone bidders were understood to be Asian clients and one of them won the Richter.
A third Richter, “Gebirge,” a much altered Alpine mountain top composition from 1968 and featured in the Venice Biennale of 1972, went to the telephone for £4,096,250/$4,989,232 (est. 2.5-3.5 million).
It last sold at Sotheby’s London in October 2004 for £845,600.
The otherwise unidentified underbidder, seated in the second row of the salesroom next to London art advisor Hugo Nathan, said “that’s it” as auctioneer Oliver Barker good naturally egged him on for one more bid.
It last sold at auction at Sotheby’s London in October 2004 for £845,600.
Figurative painting was a big evening staple as Adrian Ghenie’s 79 ¾ by 91 7/8 inch “Self-Portrait as Charles Darwin” from 2011 in oil on canvas sold to another telephone bidder for £3,252,500/$3,961,545 (est. £2-3 million).
The perplexing composition features the heavily impastoed likeness of the bearded English naturalist seated in an easy chair in close proximity to the jagged outline of the fuselage of a German fighter plane that in real life is on display at the Imperial War Museum. The somber pose is based on an 1874 photographic portrait of Darwin, including his clasped hands and bulky jacked.
The Ghenie was also backed by an irrevocable bid.
It was first acquired on the primary market in 2011 at the now shuttered Haunch Of Venison Gallery in London during Ghenie’s solo exhibition there.
Butterflies were in abundance with Damien Hirst’s orange hued triptych, “Power, After Power, After Power, That Cease Only in Death” from 2006 and executed in butterflies, flies and household gloss paint that sold to another telephone bidder for £608,750/$741,458 (est. £400-600,000).
Back to star contenders, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s halo figured composition, “Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face)” from 1982, standing six feet high and executed in acrylic, spray paint, oil stick and Xerox collage on panel sold to the telephone for a relatively puny £11,971,250/$14,580,982 (est. £14-18 million).
Sotheby’s guaranteed it and the expectations were too high to bring on stronger bidding. Still, it got away.
Originally sold through Basquiat’s early SoHo dealer, Annina Nosei, it last appeared at auction at Sotheby’s New York in November 1987 when it made $23,100.
The current seller acquired it from the Gagosian Gallery in 2004.
The painting was made shortly after Basquiat graduated from his graffiti based, street artist persona of Samo into an exciting and brash art world figure of the early ‘80’s.
A second Basquiat, “”Trophy” from 1982 and bearing bold text messages across the canvas including “Easy Mark Sucker” sold to the telephone for £2,746,250/$3,344,932 (est. £1.5-2 million).
Connecticut based dealer David Rogath was the underbidder.
Another heavyweight American entry, Christopher Wool’s massive, 126 by 96 inch monochromatic abstraction, “Untitled” from 2007, executed in oil on linen with brawny and multi-layered mark making, sparked a bidding battle and sold to the telephone for an estimate busting £7,133,750/$8,688,908 (est. £2.8-3.5 million).
Andrew Fabricant of Chicago/New York’s Richard Gray Gallery was the tenacious underbidder.
Aside from the usual line-up of blue chip artists that dominate the evening sales, a few more rarified entries come in at times, as with Swiss artist Franz Gertsch’s photo realist painting, “Luciano II” from 1976, featuring the close-up view of an androgynous looking young man in seated profile, wearing a red striped jersey. It sold to Oslo dealer Ben Frija of Galleri K for a record £2,746,250/$3,344,932 (est. 1.5-2 million).
It was the 87 year old artist’s second appearance at an evening auction.
Another photo based work, Piotr Uklanski’s seminal “The Nazis (sets A, B, C, D)” from 1998 and comprised of 164 separate, identically scaled black and white and color photographs of movie actors playing Nazi officer roles and from an edition of ten, made £308,750/$376,058 (est. £300-400,000).
Back to Blue Chip terrain, Alberto Burri’s parched and cracked, desert like composition, “Cretto Bianco” from 1958 sold to London dealer Lock Kresler of Levy- Gorvy for £1,508,750/$1,837,658 (Est. £1-1.5 million).
Levy Gorvy also snagged Alexander Calder’s majestic mobile, “Black Lace” from circa 1947 for £5,221,250/$6,359,482 (est. £3-4 million).
Yves Klein’s performance generated piece, “Untitled: Anthropometry (ANT 114)” from circa 1960, comprised of dry pigment and synthetic resin on paper laid down on canvas, sold to another telephone bidder for £2,108,750/$2,568,458 (es.t £2-3 million).
While there were few Pop Art entries, Tom Wesselmann’s eros inspiring “Smoker #5 (Mouth #19)” from 1969 in oil on shaped canvas made £3,871,250/$4,715,182 (est. £3-4 million) and Andy Warhol’s spread wing butterfly, “San Francisco Silver spot” from 1983 flew [lot 38] to £1,688,750/$ 2,056,898 (est. £1.4-1.8 million).
Hugo Nathan of London’s art advisory Beaumont Nathan was the underbidder on the Wesselmann.
The Warhol was backed by an irrevocable bid and last sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 1990 for $93,500.
Miquel Barcelo’s dramatic and heavily impastoed bull fight, stadium scene, “En Los Medios” from 1990, in mixed media on canvas and measuring 35 1/8 by 35 1/8 inches brought a torrid £1,148,750/$1,399,178 (est. £500-700,000).
A related though somewhat smaller work from the exalted series, “Pase de Pecho” sold at Christie’s on Tuesday evening for an almost identical £1,145,000/$1,399,190 and earlier on Wednesday, Barcelo’s more grandly scaled “Muletero,” also from the 1990 series, and the cover lot at Phillips, made the top lot price of £2,949,000 /$3,598,962 (est. £2.5-3.5 million).
The competition at Sotheby’s was often fierce, leaving underbidders in the wake of a strengthening market.
“I thought it was a mixed result,” said Denver collector Judy Robins who underbid the record-making Pat Steir abstraction, “Four Yellow/Red Negative Waterfall” from 1993 that made £680,750/$829,154 (est. 150-200,000), “some things went really high and some didn’t. The Steir went triple its estimate and I thought it was a really beautiful image.”
Another fiercely contested lot, Georg Baselitz’s “Ein Grosser Hund “ from 1967-68 and one of 11 lots backed by third party irrevocable bids, blasted past expectations to £1,688,750/$2,056, 898.
“I was bidding on behalf of an Asian client,” said underbidder Joseph Chen, a Taipei based art advisor who lost out to an anonymous telephone bidder.
“It’s a pretty steady market,” opined seasoned private dealer Philippe Segalot as he exited the New Bond Street salesroom, “there’s more buyers than sellers for the good things.”
That wraps up the evening auctions in London and the bigger New York sales coming up in May are just around the corner.
Phillips’s 20th Century and Contemporary Art underwhelming evening sale (well, it started at 5 PM) tallied £14.6/17.8 million compared to a pre-sale estimate on the 28 lots offered at £13.3-19.1 million.