Christie’s Patchy $332 Million Contemporary Art Evening Sale Offered No Fireworks
Moments of liveliness, like for Lucian Freud's 'The Brigadier,' were rare.
On the heels of its historic sale, “The Artist’s Muse,” which combined Impressionist and contemporary masterworks, and achieved a new $170 million Modigliani record, Christie’s focused this evening’s sale purely on postwar and contemporary art.
The sale realized $331.8 million compared with expectations of roughly $320 million. While, overall, it was a solid night, it was clear that the real fireworks had already passed; they happened the previous night.
Of 66 lots on offer, 53 (or 80 percent) were sold. By value, the sale realized 86 percent.
Along with the usual suspects that bring in stratospheric prices and dominate headlines—think Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Lucian Freud—the sale featured some pleasant surprises in the form of a giant Louise Bourgeois black steel Spider sculpture (female artists rarely ever figure in the top lots of these evening sales) and a punctured ovoid painting by Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio, the latter being a sign of how hot the market has become for Italian contemporary masters.
One of the highest-estimated lots of the evening was Andy Warhol’s Four Marilyns (1962). However, when auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen opened the bidding at $26 million on expectations of $40 million to $60 million, activity was decidedly subdued. Particularly telling was the fact that at $32 million, he immediately began announcing that it was “selling at” that level, which, being far below the low estimate, suggested that he knew there was not enough demand to get it closer to $40 million.
It was hammered down to a Christie’s specialist on the phone with a client for $32 million. With premium, the final price was $36 million. Perhaps the fact that the painting was the target of so many recent rapid market flips weighed on its luster.
It was sold at Phillips just two years ago for $38.6 million on an unpublished estimate. At the time it was bought by Gagosian Gallery on behalf of Russian collector, Mikhail Fridman, then privately sold earlier this year for $44 million to collector Kemal Has Cingillioglu, who is a member of the European Advisory Board at Christie’s.
Demand was more lively for Lucian Freud’s The Brigadier (2003-2004), an imposing portrait of Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles, former husband of Camilla Parker-Bowles, now married to Prince Charles. It was hammered down for $31 million to a Christie’s specialist, after Pylkkänen opened bidding at $20 million and, as it neared $30 million, it was still being chased by three bidders. With premium, the final price was a hair under $35 million.
Louise Bourgeois’s Spider (conceived in 1996, cast in 1997), which had for the past few weeks sprawled over the entrance to Christie’s Rockefeller Center headquarters, met its mark but, after opening at $20 million, bidding was relatively thin. Christie’s Deputy Chairman for Post-War and Contemporary art Loic Gouzer won it for his client, who he was speaking to by phone, on a hammer price of $25 million that just met the low estimate. With premium the final price was $28.2 million.
Aside from some of the mixed demand seen for expected star lots, the sale started off with a bang when Christie’s offered a group of sculptures by Alexander Calder and David Smith, from the Arthur and Anita Khan collection, that were sought by both bidders in the room (particularly the Nahmad family) and on the phones, a number of whom were bidding through Christie’s Asia-based specialists.
Xin Li, who has been described as Christie’s “secret weapon” when it comes to bidding for wealthy Asian clients, was a notable presence at tonight’s sale, both for the Calders as well as several other high-profile lots, a number of which she won, including Lucio Fontana’a Concetto Spaziale, La fine di Dio.
Bidding opened at $20 million and Xin Li suddenly jumped in at $25 million as she spoke to her client on the phone. She went bid for bid against the Nahmad family before winning it for her client on a hammer of $25.9 million, or $29.2 million with premium.
She also beat out Christie’s Italian specialist to win Cy Twombly’s painting Untitled (1971) for $17.5 million for her client.
Spotted in the room tonight were power dealer Larry Gagosian, who bid on several works including a Richard Prince “joke” painting—he opted out at $1.7 million and it sold to another bidder in the room. He bid $2.2 million on Roy Lichtenstein’s patinated bronze Glass V (1977), but then lost out to Christie’s specialist Laura Paulson, who won it for her client on a hammer bid of $2.4 million.
We also caught sight of Maria Baibakova, Jeffrey Deitch, David Zwirner, and the Nahmad family, the latter in their usual spot up near the front of the bidding podium.
Private dealer Philippe Ségalot, who was seated in the room, bought Christopher Wool’s Untitled, a 1990 word painting that reads: “Cats In Bag Bags In River.” Another expensive lot, Ségalot bought it for $15 million, or $16.7 million with premium.
And, of course, what would a contemporary evening sale be without a big shiny Jeff Koons. Here, a bright Balloon Swan (2004–2011) was offered on an estimate of $15 million to $25 million, but fell a bit short, taking a premium-inclusive $14.7 million.
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