A New World Record for Banksy and a Pretty Little Picasso Powered Christie’s Seemingly Endless $275 Million Contemporary Art Auction

The sale went on and on for four hours.

Banksy, Game Changer (2020). Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

Christie’s live-streamed sale today of 20th-century, Surrealist, and contemporary art, held in Hong Kong and London with bids beamed in from around the world, started off with a bang as a Jean-Michel Basquiat self-portrait took in $41.8 million.

Works by highly-sought after artists—some of whom have been the targets of rampant auction speculation—ignited the early part of the sale, which became subdued later as it moved into its Impressionist and Modern art portion.

In all, the marathon sale lasted four hours with seasoned auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen
taking a much-needed short break in between, as Arlene Blankers stepped up to the rostrum to oversee the quiet second half of the 20th-century sale.

In all, the sale achieved £199 million ($275 million), exceeding expectations of £130 million to £193 million. (Sales figures include buyers’ premiums; presale estimates do not.) Fourteen of the more than 80 works on offer had guarantees, all but one of which were backed by third parties.

But first the buzz.

Claire Tabouret, The Last Day (2016). Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

Claire Tabouret, The Last Day (2016). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd.

Following Basquiat, the first work on the block was by British-Nigerian artist Joy Labinjo. No Wahala (2019), which was estimated at £30,000 to £40,000, soared well above that to sell for £150,000 ($207,700) with premium.

It was followed by Issy Wood’s trompe l’oeill Over Armour (non-linear, non violent). Painted on a rich swath of velvet, it “sits somewhere between object and artwork; a depiction of a puffer jacket that seems to come to life in tactile, three-dimensional splendour,” according to Christie’s catalogue. It sold for £250,000 ($346,000) after dogged competition from Christie’s specialists in New York and London drove up the price on behalf of phone clients.

The work set a record for Wood by default, because it was her first appearance at auction.

The frenzied energy carried on for successive offerings by other buzzed-about names including Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Claire Tabouret, with multiple specialists chasing their works, forcing Pylkkänen to keep up with volleying bids from multiple cities.

Issy Wood, <em>Over Armour (non-linear, non violent) </em>(2019). Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

Issy Wood, Over Armour (non-linear, non violent) (2019). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd.

Yiadom-Boakye’s The Like Above All Lovers (2013) sold for £512,500 ($710,000), while Tabouret’s The Last Day (2016) sold for £622,500 ($862,200), far higher than the £150,000 to £200,000 estimate.

The energy carried into the next offering by rebel artist and market darling Banksy (can he really be both?), whose oil-on-canvas Game Changer (2020) was sold to benefit University Hospital Southampton staff and patients. The artist even received special permission from the Red Cross to use its iconic logo in the work, a request it rarely grants.

The estimate was £2.5 million to £3.5 million, and after bidding opening at around £1 million, momentum slowed as the price hit £5 million. But then it took off again, eventually settling into a two-way battle between Christie’s specialist Tessa Lord and a competitor bidding through Christie’s online platform.

The two went toe-to-tow in £200,000 increments before Lord’s client eventually won it on a hammer bid of £14.8 million. With premium, the final price was £16.8 million ($23.2 million), a heady and far-better-than expected result—not to mention a new auction record for Banksy. And all for a worthy cause.

Amoako Boafo, Self-Portrait (2019). Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

Amoako Boafo, Self-Portrait (2019). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd.

Shortly thereafter, it was back to the buzzy young names, none of whom has had a hotter auction streak than Amoako Boafo, the Ghanian star whose rise has not been without the blemishes of market manipulation and speculation.

Today’s offering, Self-Portrait (2016), immediately shattered expectations to sell for £550,000 ($762,000), or seven times the high £80,000 estimate.

Next up was a work by Matthew Wong, the young Canadian painter who died by suicide in late 2019, and whose works have been sought-after ever since, with numerous examples bought from galleries quickly turning up at auction.

An untitled signature landscape from 2017 sold today for £2.7 million ($3.8 million) against an estimate of £700,000 to an Asian bidder on the phone with a Christie’s specialist in Hong Kong.

From there, the seemingly interminable auction moved on to roughly 70 lots of Modern and Surrealist art, all of a sudden feeling like a traditional evening sale, albeit delivered virtually.

Pablo Picasso, Femme nue couchée au collier (Marie-Thérèse) (1932). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd.

After the Basquiat and the Banksy, the third-highest price fetched was for a modest 16-by-16 inch Picasso painting of his lover, Marie-Therese Walter, Femme nue couchée au collier (Marie-Thérese) (1932), which sold for £14.6 million ($20 million). It was followed by a Joan Miró painting that went for £10.2 million ($14.1 million). Pylkkänen and Blankers at times coaxed bids from lower-key buyers for these lots.

Other top sales included Rene Magritte’s Le mois des vendanges for £10 million ($13.8 million), and an Alexander Calder mobile, Submarine Christmas Tree, that generated some intense excitement as the price moved upwards. It sold for £6.6 million ($9 million).

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