Richter Flops at Christie’s Jittery $150 Million London Contemporary Sale

Many works struggled to hit their targets.

Yves Klein Peinture de feu couleur sans titre, (FC 27) (1962)
Photo: Christie's, London

London’s contemporary art sales shifted up a gear last night as Christie’s notched up £95.6 million, or $150.1 million, of sales, well within the pre-sale estimate of £82/117 million (prices include the buyer’s premium, estimates do not). 66, or 87 percent of the lots sold, 36 for over 1 million dollars and two for over 10 million dollars. Six artists’ records were broken.

It was a session of fluctuating tempo as 30 lots sold on or below the low estimate with little bidding, and no less than four Gerhard Richter paintings, including two abstracts, were unsold. Brett Gorvy described them as too “intellectual” for the market—though actually they were just dull. I doubt he would have included them in his New York sale at last night’s estimates of between £800,000 and £4 million. (See Art Market Data: Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Market Collapses as Sotheby’s Grows.)

Two works by Francis Bacon led the sale. A small diptych of the heads of Isabel Rawsthorne and George Dyer—two of his favorite models—sold within estimate to an Asian phone bidder for £12.2 million, while a less typical, large 1971 canvas of Two men working in a field, which was being sold by the Asian buyer who bought it at auction in 2007 for £5 million, now sold to a Russian buyer bidding through Moscow and New York dealer, Gary Tatintsian, for £10.7 million, near the high end of the estimate. Russian art dealer, Ivan Samarine, who was with Tatintsian, said they thought the painting was “hugely important.”

Jake and Dinos Chapman Great Deeds Against the Dead (1994) Photo: Christie's London

Jake and Dinos Chapman, Great Deeds Against the Dead (1994).
Photo: Christie’s London

Also important, and very colorful and decorative, was one of the largest of Yves Klein’s “fire paintings” to come to market (FC27 according to his catalogue raisonné which lists his works by letters and numbers). Guaranteed by a third party and with an estimate of £5 million, it sold to the curator of the collection of Greek collector Georges Economou for £5.9 million. Clearly no debt crisis there.

Other highly priced works that were guaranteed struggled to hit their targets. Sigmar Polke’s Moonlit Landscape with Reeds (1969), had a third party guarantee and sold below estimate to fetch £3.9 million including premium. Christopher Wool’s predominantly yellow Mad Cow (1997), was guaranteed by Christie’s and sold far below the estimate for £3.4 million. Also guaranteed by Christie’s was Alberto Burri’s combusted plastic work, Bianco Plastica P (1970), which sold to US art adviser, Todd Levin, below estimate for £2.2 million.

As is customary, the sale opened with a small group of younger artists who have been the subject of some speculation and competition for gallery representation. Jeff Elrod’s Echo Painting of 2013, that would have sold originally for less than $100,000 at Gagosian, sold to an Asian phone buyer against dealer Stellan Holm, in the room, for a record £218,500, or $343,000 (est: £80/120,000). A geometric fiber work by Brent Wadden, estimated at £30,000, was from the Saatchi collection and sold for a record £122,500, or $192,203. A gold leaf on cardboard work by Danh Vo Untitled (A-Z without J) – E, sold to White Cube for £218,500, within the estimate. His prices are now leveling off.10381_24


Christie’s had again placed some emphasis on the YBA’s or of the 1990s and had secured several works from the collection of Tasmanian gambler, David Walsh. The decision to sell paid off spectacularly well with Chris Ofili’s Holy Virgin Mary (1996), which caused controversy at 1998’s “Sensation” exhibition, selling to a phone bidder for a record £2.9 million. Another record from the Walsh collection came when Jake and Dinos Chapman’s arresting, Goya-inspired sculpture, Great Deeds Against the Dead (1994), sold to his dealer Jay Jopling, of White Cube, for £422,500—albeit below the estimate. Not many dealers would bid against the reserve like that to protect their artists’ prices.

There was no such support though for Sarah Lucas, whose show at the Venice Biennale was widely panned, as two works by her with estimates from £100,000 to £400,000 went unsold.

Charles Saatchi, on the other hand, continues to affect the market with some of his auction sales. Apart from the Brent Wadden, he sold R.H. Quaytman’s multi-component, painted wood Constructivismes, Chapter 13, at the high estimate for a record £578,500 or $907,667. White Cube was one of a posse of underbidders.

R. H. Quaytman Constructivismes, Chapter 13  (2004-2009) Photo: Christie's, London

R. H. Quaytman, Constructivismes, Chapter 13 (2004-2009).
Photo: Christie’s London

The sale owed a lot to single-owner collectors. Named in the catalogue were the late Lord and Lady Jacobs, parents of gallerist Nichola Jacobs, who had some choice morsels. A 1960 drawing by Richard Hamilton, Pin-Up Sketch V, was a study for a painting in MoMA New York’s collection and sold above estimate for £242,500 to Lock Kresler of the Dominique Levy Gallery.

Two Jean Dubuffets from the collection emphasized the artist’s come-back trend selling over estimate and a really colorful Morris Louis stripe painting, Number 36, (1962), which they bought in 1998 for $178,500, showed a dramatic return selling for £1.5 million or $2.4 million to a US phone bidder, hotly pursued by dealers, Jose Mugrabi and Stephen Ongpin in the room. Dealers buying from the collection included Acquavella Galleries, who bought Roy Lichtenstein’s Apples, Grapes, Grapefruit, on the low estimate for £2.1 million, and Thaddaeus Ropac, who outbid Mugrabi for Rauschenberg’s large ‘Page 14’, 2000, above estimate for £242,500.

Also selling, but unannounced, like Saatchi, in the catalogue, was Francois Pinault, whose hilarious taxidermy ostrich by Maurizio Cattelan sold just under estimate to the same buyer as the record Ofili for £1.5 million. Pinault’s ornate Absence of God 11 by Raqib Shaw appeared to sell to a Middle Eastern phone bidder below estimate for £722,500.

Chris Ofili The Holy Virgin Mary (1996) Photo: Christie's, London

Chris Ofili, The Holy Virgin Mary (1996).
Photo: Christie’s London

Other buyers in the room were Cologne dealer, Alex Lachmann, who bought Thomas Schutte’s Quartett  (1994), below estimate for £182,500; London dealer, Stephen Ongpin, who bought Ben Nicholson’s Nov 51 (Silver and Black)’, for a bargain £86,500; and agent, Jude Hess, who bought Lucio Fontana’s red, slashed Concetto Spaziale within estimate for £3.3 million against competition from Mugrabi. The painting was last sold in 1999 for £144,500, and the mark up just says it all about the supply and demand which drives the postwar and contemporary art market.

Also buying Fontanas were London dealer, Marco Voena, who bought a red punctured work below estimate for £518,500; and Mugrabi, who outbid David Nahmad for a yellow slashed canvas at an above-estimate £1.7 million. Younger Nahmad, Joe, placed his bets on a Richard Prince Untitled (Cowboy), which Christie’s had guaranteed, and bought it on the low estimate for £842,500 including premium.

Last but not least, Josh Baer, publisher of art industry newsletter the Baer Faxt, reminded us all that he was a dealer and is active as an adviser, buying Ofili’s The Naked Soul of Captain Shit…, guaranteed by Christie’s with a £400,000 low estimate, and sold at a hammer price just below that for a premium inclusive £458,500.

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