Anselm Kiefer Leads Phillips’s Post-Brexit 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Phillips survived what may, in the future, be known as the London Brexit sales.
On June 27, Phillips inaugurated what may, in the future, be known as the London Brexit sales—the first contemporary auctions to take place after the historic decision by a majority of British people to pull out of the European Union. Nonetheless, the auction house mustered a total of £11.9 million ($16.25 million) for 31 lots of post-war and contemporary art with top-bidding going to Anselm Kiefer’s epic For Velimir Khlebnikov; The doctrine of War; Battles, (2004-2010), which sold for £2.4 million ($3.28 million) to a phone bidder.
With buyers’ premium, the sale just exceeded the low estimate of £10.2 million ($13.93 million), but 10 lots were unsold and 11 sold below estimate. The total was notably lower than that of last June when Phillips just met the low estimate with an £18.2 million ($24.85 million) sale, but in line with most previous June sales in London after 2010. The question was whether the art market could survive the political and financial turmoil that surrounded it, on top of the contractions seen in the market during the course of the year.
Going into the sale, the stock market had slumped with banking shares hit the worst; by the end, the UK had lost its triple A debt ratings. As far as currencies were concerned, the pound was trading at $1.315, a 31-year low, so for buyers in foreign currencies, prices were attractive (printed estimates were set at a $1.45 exchange rate).
“The sale was put together in difficult circumstances,” said chairman and CEO, Ed Dolman. During the final stages of business-getting, money traders had factored in a Brexit possibility of a low pound, affecting consignments.
The sale got off to an electric start when Ugo Rondinone’s two bluestone figures, The Pleasant and The Delighted (2013), sold for a double estimate £281,000 ($383,613). Advisor Kim Heirston was one of the underbidders. ‘That would have cost $60,000 at primary level,” said art adviser Amir Shariat.
Kiefer’s epic For Velimir Khlebnikov; The doctrine of War; Battles, a paint, shellac and straw painting with a lead boat had previously been in the Maleki Collection. It sale price was a quadruple estimate record (in £’s, but not in dollars).
The only other painting to exceed the estimate was Michelangelo Pistoletto’s, mirror painting, Violet Dog (1968), bought in 2009 for £109,250 ($149,145), and estimated at £400/600,000 ($546,068/819,102). This was guaranteed and sold for £905, 000 ($1,235,480), which was exceptionally good for the owner and the third party guarantor.
Another highly-tipped winner, and another Italian too, was Domenico Gnoli whose sand painting in shades of brown, Inside of a Lady’s Shoe (1969), had been bought in 1993 for £67,500 ($92,149) and now carried an estimate of £1/1.5 million ($1.37/2.05 million). Not one of the artist’s punchier images, the work sold below estimates for £965,000 ($1,317,390), but represented a significant gain nonetheless.
Four other lots had third party guarantees, including three of the 10 most highly valued lots by Rudolf Stingel, Barbara Hepworth, and Gerhard Richter. The only in-house guarantee was on a 1975 painting by Sam Francis, Facing Within, estimated at £300/500,000 ($409,551/682.585), which didn’t sell and so now belongs to Phillips.
There was an element at the sale of bottom fishing—bidders expecting reserves to have been lowered trying see for how little they could buy something—a pattern that will become more familiar as the week goes on.
Thirteen of the 21 lots sold did so on bids either on or below their low estimates. A Marino Marini painting with a £140,000 ($191,124) estimate sold on a bid of £100,000 ($136,517). In dollar terms the difference was greater. Either way, it was less than the painting made in 2009 (£145,000 ($197,950)).
“There was a certain amount of opportunistic bidding,” Jean-Paul Engelen, Phillips’s head of contemporary art worldwide, acknowledged after the sale, referring to the number of bids made below estimates and at favorable exchange rates. “There was quite a bit of bidding from America and Asia where they could be making savings of 10 percent or more on the currency falls,” said Dolman. “That helped the sale.”
But overall, there was not enough quality to excite the market beyond what Phillips’s UK Chairman, Hugues Joffre termed ‘the expensive works.’ Among the top lots were two expensive looking works by Rudolf Stingel, one shiny and silver, the other, with a luxuriant carpet design that sold within estimate for £1.3 million ($1.78 million).
The cheaper end looked very vulnerable to the post Brexit fall out. This might include the less typical examples offered by auction stars Mark Bradford and Adrian Ghenie, for which there were no fireworks, or, in the unsold batch, Danh Vo, or Raqib Shaw.
Nonetheless, while bigger stakes will be played for at Sotheby’s on Tuesday evening, Phillips survived the ordeal.
Note on currency conversion: Currency conversion from British pounds into US dollars was done between 9:00pm and 10:00pm Eastern Standard Time June 27, 2016 using Oanda.
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