Records Tumble at Christie’s $117.1 Million Contemporary Sale in London, Led by Peter Doig

The evening's total was 65 percent better than last year's.

Peter Doig, Cobourg 3 + 1 More (1994). Courtesy Christie's.

“The market is back, for sure,” intoned Francis Outred, Christie’s chairman and head of Postwar and Contemporary art (EMERI), after the house sold 56 out of 59 lots in London Tuesday evening for a total of £94.8 million ($117.1 million), breaking numerous artists’ records in the process.

The night’s top price was for a Peter Doig canvas; the sale achieved new highs for Cecily Brown, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Carol Rama, Henry Taylor, Wolfgang Tillmans, Neo Rauch, Jean Dubuffet, Albert Oehlen, and Günther Uecker. A record was also set for a work created jointly by Joan Miró and Josep Llorens.

The evening saw as many as nine bidders vying for some of the works that sold well, and nearly a third of works offered sold over estimate. The total, at the high end of the pre-sale estimate of £67.5-£101.5 million ($82.4–123.9 million) was up 65 percent from last year’s equivalent sale, but not quite up to 2014 or 2015 levels.

Mark Rothko, <i>No. 1</i> (1949). Courtesy Christie's.

Mark Rothko, No. 1 (1949). Courtesy Christie’s.

The work bearing the highest estimate, at £8–12 million ($10–15 million), was Mark Rothko’s No. 1 (1949), from when he was easing into abstraction. Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev reportedly bought it from freeport magnate Yves Bouvier for $36 million dollars in 2008. Like the post-Impressionist and modern works Rybolovlev was selling last week, the Rothko failed to recoup the outlay, selling for £10.7 million ($13 million).

It was superseded by Peter Doig’s 8-foot-wide snowy landscape Coburg 3 +1 More (1994), which the Provincial Rheinland Versicherung, an insurance company based in Dusseldorf, bought in 1994, when Doig’s prices were around £10,000. Now cashing in on that insurance, the company sold it to the same buyer who picked up the Rothko, within estimate, for £12.7 million ($15.6 million).

Jean Dubuffet, <i>To Be and To Seem</i> (1963). Courtesy Christie's.

Jean Dubuffet, To Be and To Seem (1963). Courtesy Christie’s.

Christie’s had found third-party guarantees for seven lots, the most expensive of which was Dubuffet’s large 1963 painting To Be and to Seem, which carried the highest estimate yet for one of his distinctive “hourloupe” paintings, at £7–10 million ($8.5–12.2 million). Andrew Fabricant, of New York’s Richard Gray Gallery, bid for it but lost out to London dealer Helly Nahmad, whose family has supported the Dubuffet market for decades and who paid £10 million ($12.2 million) for it. The Nahmads were the strongest bidders in the room on Tuesday, also beating back competition from London dealer Pilar Ordovas to buy a 1955 Calder mobile within estimate for £4.5 million ($5.5 million) and another below estimate for £3.5 million ($4.3 million).

Albert Oehlen, <i>Self-Portrait with Palette</i> (2005). Courtesy Christie's.

Albert Oehlen, Self-Portrait with Palette (2005). Courtesy Christie’s.

Another guaranteed lot was Albert Oehlen’s Self-Portrait with Palette, an unusual figurative work from 2005, which carried an £2.5–3.5 million ($3–4.3 million) estimate, far beyond his previous record of £1.1 million ($1.9 million). It sold for £2.96 million ($3.6 million), at the low estimate, perhaps to the guarantor—setting a record nonetheless.

Ali Banisadr, <i>Time for Outrage</I> (2011). Courtesy Christie's.

Ali Banisadr, Time for Outrage (2011). Courtesy Christie’s.

Coming in with the highest estimate yet for the artist was US-based Iranian artist Ali Banisadr’s pulsating war image Time for Outrage (2011), with a £220,000–320,000 (about $270,000–392,000) estimate. With his work always sure to sell in the galleries, this would have cost about €150,000 when it was bought from Thaddaeus Ropac in 2012. On Tuesday, the painting topped its high estimate, selling for £413,000 ($506,000), approaching the artist’s $557,000 auction high, to Christie’s Andreas Rumbler, who appeared to be taking bids from his former colleague Brett Gorvy, now of Lévy Gorvy Gallery, who was in the room on his mobile phone.

Jeff Koons, <i>Jim Beam—Observation Car</i> (1986). Courtesy Christie's.

Jeff Koons, Jim Beam—Observation Car (1986). Courtesy Christie’s.

The only lots guaranteed directly by Christie’s were three sculptures of single train cars from Jeff Koons’s first stainless steel sculpture, the 1986 Jim Beam bourbon-filled train, from his “Luxury and Degradation” series. Each was estimated at £400,000–600,000 (about $490,000–735,000). One, Jim Beam—Observation Car, fetched $1.6 million at Phillips New York in May 2013. The buyer then, who was the seller on Tuesday, was Kemal Cingillioglu, a member of the Turkish banking family who sits on Christie’s European advisory board. It sold to a Japanese bidder for a loss at £545,000 (about $667,000). Jim Beam—Baggage Car was bought at Sotheby’s in 2010 in London for £634,850 and sold for £557,000 (about $682,000) on Tuesday, while the third, Jim Beam—Log Car, bought from Haunch of Venison when it was part of Christie’s, sold for £497,000 (about $609,000).

Wolfgang Tillmans, <i>Freischwimmer 186</i> (2011). Courtesy Christie's.

Wolfgang Tillmans, Freischwimmer 186 (2011). Courtesy Christie’s.

Christie’s choice of opening lot—a huge blue abstract photo by Wolfgang Tillmans, Freischwimmer 186 (2011)—was banking on the effect the artist’s current show at London’s Tate Modern might have, and the fact that the Museum of Modern Art, New York, has examples from this series in its collection. The bet paid off when, on an estimate of £80,000–100,000 (about $98,000–147,000), it sold for a record £269,000 (about $329,000).

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, <i>The Beautyful Ones</i> (2012). Courtesy Christie's.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, The Beautyful Ones (2012). Courtesy Christie’s.

Close behind was one of the market’s hottest young artists, Nigerian-born California resident Njideka Akunyili Crosby, with an eight-foot-high portrait of a bespectacled young girl in a patterned dress in a patterned interior, The Beautyful Ones (2012). Only two works by Crosby have been at auction—both last year, both soaring past retail-level estimates and one of them reaching $1 million, at Sotheby’s New York, in the artist’s debut outing at a major evening auction. The Beautyful Ones went further. Carrying the artist’s highest estimate yet of £400,000–600,000 (about $490,000–735,000), it attracted numerous bids before selling to a client of Christie’s chairman of Germany, Christiane Gräfin zu Rantzau, for a new record £2.5 million ($3.1 million).

Also carrying the highest estimate yet for its artist was Bricolage, a 1967 mixed media painting by Italian feminist artist Carol Rama, who died two years ago at 97. A group of her works go on view this spring at Venice’s Palazzo Ca’ Nova, just in time for the Venice Biennale. On Tuesday, the price for Bricolage swept over the £80,000 ($98,000) high estimate to a record £185,000 (about $227,000).

A notable record was also set for a nail work by Günther Uecker when two 1997 works, Spirale I and Spirale II, originally catalogued separately, were sold as one work, Spirale I, Spirale II (Dopplespirale) under instruction from the artist, reaping £2.6 million ($3.2 million).

Asian bidders made less impact on the sale than they did at the house’s Impressionist and modern art sale. A bidder from China snagged Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Alpha Particles (1984) at the high estimate for £4 million ($4.9 million). The painting had come to auction twice, in 2000 and 2008, and not sold. (A little celebrity provenance may have helped an untitled Basquiat drawing from 1982, which was sold by U2 bassist Adam Clayton, edge past its high estimate of £1.5 million, or $1.8 million, to fetch £2.2 million, or $2.7 million.)

Other Asian bidders picked up works by Anselm Kiefer, Jeff Koons, and Gerhard Richter, and underbid on Cecily Brown, Adrian Ghenie, and Yoshitomo Nara. And overall, the presence of bidders from some 36 countries underlined how global the market has become.

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