Christie’s 20th/21st Century Evening Sale Notches Steady Results, a Feat in the Current Tepid Art Market
Seven artists' records were set and the sales total was on par with last year's.
Christie’s lives to fight another day.
The auction house’s main 20th/21st century evening sale in London on October 13 carried roughly the same expectations as this time last year: £40.6 million to £58.2 million ($49.2 million to $70.6 million) for 53 lots, reduced to 51 after 2 lots were withdrawn. It landed within estimate—and unexpectedly on a par with Sotheby’s—at £44.7 million ($54.5 million), including seven new auction records. Given that the market is going through a serious adjustment, the fact that well over half the lots sold either within or above estimate was an achievement in itself.
The top price of the sale was a five-foot square collage, Future Sciences Versus the Man (1982), by Jean-Michel Basquiat from a U.S. collection, which was guaranteed and appeared to sell to the guarantor below estimate for £10.4 million ($12.6 million). (Prices paid include the buyers’ premium, estimates do not).
In fact, none of the top lots exceeded their estimates. Those that bit the dust included a large Yayoi Kusama painting, Flame (1992), from a Berlin collection, with a £1.8 million ($2.2 million) low estimate, and Andy Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes (1980), which bore a £1.5 million ($1.8 million) low estimate. The latter was slightly surprising given that another Warhol from the same series had sold for £3 million ($3.6 million) the night before at Sotheby’s. But then those shoes were pink, and these were brown.
This Christie’s sale coincided with a move spearheaded by Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, to promote London as a capital of creativity. The inclusion of a number of British artists has always been a feature of the Frieze Week auctions, and this year the Christie’s sale was headlined by a diptych from the late Paula Rego, Dancing Ostrichse from Walt Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ (1995). The work was believed to have been consigned by her gallery, Marlborough Fine Art, from whom it was bought by Charles Saatchi. Estimated at a record £2.2 million-£3.2 million, it sold after limited bidding for £3.1 million ($3.8 million) to a client of Christie’s specialist advisor Nicole Chung, a former press officer for the Long Museum in Shanghai.
As is the norm, the sale was front-loaded with the hottest younger-generation artists the house could find, with birthdates ranging from 1978 to 1996. Examples included a painting of women wrestling, Pollyanna Wrestlers (2018), by Jenna Gribbon, which surpassed estimates to fetch £226,800 ($274,972), and a semi-abstract painting, Worked on Earth (2020), by recent British art school graduate Pam Evelyn, currently showing at Pace Gallery London, which attracted online bidding from South Africa and Michigan before selling to a phone bidder for a double-estimate record: £113,400 ($137,480).
Figurative painter Sahara Longe, a new star in the Timothy Taylor gallery camp, was present with her over seven-feet high Party Scene (2021). It attracted eight telephone bidders, ultimately more than doubling estimates to sell for a record £176,400 ($213,867).
Included in this group was a large glowing 1991 landscape by the Italian artist Salvo (1947–2015) whose work used to be placed in specialized Italian sales. It was last sold at auction in Milan in 2018 for a double-estimate €81,250 and was estimated to recoup that amount with a £80,000 low estimate here. However, 22 bidders registered to bid on the phone and all hell let loose in competition for the work until the diminutive New York-based art adviser Gabriella Palmieri trumped them all with a bid from her seat to win the painting for a record £693,000 ($840,192).
Settling comfortably within his cohort was the late Etel Adnan whose undulating Untitled (2016) evoked a color-imbued desert landscape. The work was chased by dealer Harry Blain before selling to an American phone bidder for a double-estimate £327,600 ($397,181).
Another older artist hitting a new high was Winston Branch, a Caribbean-born British artist in his seventies. Branch had a breakthrough recently when one of his abstract paintings was acquired by Tate Britain, which compared it to a Monet. No work of his had sold at auction for more than £12,000 before—but in March 2020, one of his paintings was put up for sale at Christie’s with an unprecedented £40,000-£60,000 estimate, selling to a private collector for £126,000 ($152,762). Branch had an exhibition this year with the Simon Lee gallery (before it closed), where works were priced at up to £300,000 each; several were sold.
At Christie’s today his shimmering abstract, The Magic Is in You (1982-84), carried an even higher estimate at £100,000- £150,000. It exceeded that number, selling to a phone bidder for £239,400 ($290,248). Underbidding in the room was a private collector from Switzerland who told Artnet News he had already bought work by Branch at Simon Lee’s exhibition.
Losing money tonight was Peter Doig’s House of Pictures (2000-2002), bought in 2018 by Danish collector Jens Faurschou for $9.1 million but sold today for £6.1 million ($7.4 million)—though less to the seller after the auctioneer’s commission is deducted. A very large Damien Hirst butterfly painting, I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds (2006), which had been purchased in 2010 for £2.2 million, sold for a mere £1.5 million ($1.8 million).
Even El Anatsui, star of the current Tate Turbine Hall installation, was not spared. His 12-by-13-foot aluminum-and-copper wall hanging, Warrior (2015), sold just below estimate for a hammer price of £650,000 ($788,059), under the £725,000 the seller had paid for it in 2017.
Emerging relatively unscathed was Marlene Dumas’s unsettling After the Kiss (1996), last at auction in 2010 when it sold for £730,000, and now changing hands for £3.1 million. Similarly, a David Hockney paper pulp work, Gregory in the Pool (Paper Pool 4) (1978), which was purchased in 2004 for £95,000, came back with an improved £529,200 ($641,601) this evening.
Perhaps the surprise unsold lot of the evening was Maria Berrio’s The Procession (2015). Three years ago, the artist’s market was stimulated when she signed with Victoria Miro. A similar work sold for a triple-estimate $1.6 million in New York last November. But today’s estimate of £500,000-£700,000 was the highest for her yet, and the market was not in the mood. And there were worries, apparently, that it would not be receptive to The Pour (2022), a £400,000-£600,000-estimate painting by Jade Fadojutimi, which was withdrawn in spite of recent representation by Gagosian.
All in all, though, the sale successfully negotiated the challenges facing the British and indeed international art markets.
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