Hot Lots: 7 Sought-After Artworks That Utterly Shattered Expectations During the London Auction Extravaganza

Even if the evening sales were a bit lackluster, the day sales had a number of record-smashing art-star-making lots.

Helena Newman at Sotheby's on October 21, 2020 in London, England. Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Sotheby's.
Helena Newman at Sotheby's on October 21, 2020 in London, England. Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Sotheby's.

Though the auction schedule is a bit out of whack these days, there was a sense of normalcy last week when Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips all held their contemporary art evening sales in London—or London and Paris, as was the case for the two bigger houses.

The proceedings didn’t seem normal, per se, as nearly all bidders made offers through online channels or by calling into specialists, as in-person attendance was greatly limited by distancing protocols.

And no, the evening sales didn’t do particularly well. In a year when the gross take is down significantly compared to 2019, they didn’t quite succeed, even on the terms of this new reality, as most barely passed the already downplayed low estimates.

But there were a few bright spots, many coming from the day sales, the art-market primordial ooze where the art stars of tomorrow are incubated and born. Here are the seven lots that outperformed the rest—which in some cases may herald the emergence of new art-world darlings.

 

Michael Armitage
Early Portrait (Friend from Bryanston) (2001)

Michael Armitage, <em>Early Portrait (Friend from Bryanston)</em> (2001). Photo courtesy Sotheby's.

Michael Armitage, Early Portrait (Friend from Bryanston) (2001). Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Auction: Sotheby’s London Contemporary Art Day Auction, October 22, 2020

Estimate: $19,500 to $26,000

Sold For: $571,000

It’s safe to say that everyone at this point knows about the auction phenomenon that is Michael Armitage. In February, Armitage made his auction debut at Sotheby’s with the 2015 painting The Conservationists, which sold for $1.52 million, more than 21 times its high estimate. In this industry, that sort of thing makes you famous overnight. But even Armitage fans could be forgiven for overlooking a work up for auction that was buried deep into the Sotheby’s day sale last week.

Instead of one of the massive Armitage paintings that have been in high demand, it was more of a curio than a real work, a portrait the artist made of a mate at the Bryanston School in Dorset, a preppy conservatory that accepts day students and boarding students. Armitage was all of 17 when he made the work.

Accordingly, Sotheby’s slapped a modest $26,000 high estimate on it, hoping a collector going deep into Armitage marginalia would snap it up. That’s not what happened. Instead, a whopping 56 bidders shot their shot in an attempt to get their hands on the work, and it sold for $571,000, nearly 20 times the high estimate. We know Armitage is hot. Now it appears anything that came from the hand of the artist will sell big.

 

Dana Schutz
A Thing in the Wind (2016)

Dana Schutz, <em>A Thing in the Wind</em> (2016). Photo courtesy Sotheby's.

Dana Schutz, A Thing in the Wind (2016). Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Auction: Sotheby’s London Contemporary Art Day Auction, October 22, 2020

Estimate: $39,000 to $52,000

Sold For: $410,000

Ground zero for Dana Schutz’s secondary market continues to be the 2016 exhibition “Waiting for the Barbarians,” her debut show at Berlin gallery Contemporary Fine Art. Last year, the Japanese flipper par excellence Takumi Ikeda sold Shooting on the Air (2016) at Christie’s for $1.1 million, just a few years after purchasing it from the Berlin gallery, and now another collector (or… also Ikeda? Purely speculating!) consigned a Schutz from that show, this time to Sotheby’s.

It’s not one of the artist’s rightfully gushed-over paintings, which now occupy spaces in evening sales exclusively. Rather, it’s one of the muted black-and-white charcoal-on-paper works, which have not exactly lit the market on fire. While the color-washed works on paper have fetched more than $200,000 in the past year, the more drab charcoal works have only gone as high as $42,000.

But perhaps the demand for Schutz is such that collectors shut out of the price range for works with bright pigments—access to primary-market Schutz, who recently signed with David Zwirner, is laughable for all but the top few patrons—are now fighting for whatever they can get. After dozens of bids, Schutz’s A Thing in the Wind (2016) went for $410,000, well above its $52,000 high estimate.

 

Robert Nava
Anu Zord (Transformer) (2018)

Robert Nava, <em>Anu Zord (Transformer)</em> (2018). Photo courtesy Phillips.

Robert Nava, Anu Zord (Transformer) (2018). Photo courtesy Phillips.

Auction: Phillips London 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, October 21, 2020

Estimate: $52,000 to $78,000

Sold For: $124,000

If you want to watch a dealer squirm, bring up the young Brooklyn-based artist Robert Nava. It’s been a while since there’s been a market darling this polarizing. Either Nava is the second coming of Kippenberger but better, or his new version of “bad painting” is just straight up no-scare-quotes bad painting.

I’m a fan, but that doesn’t much matter; until there’s a critical consensus on Nava’s good-bad/bad-good depictions of monsters and beasts, we’ll have to let the market decide. And the market gods have boomed down from the heavens with a resounding yes.

After The Tunnel (2019) sold for $162,500 at Phillips in July, two more paintings hit six figures in October, including Aud Zord (Transformer) (2018), which sold at Phillips for more than $124,000, nearly double the high estimate. Perhaps the prices are pumped by the rumor that Nava’s mulling an offer from Pace? Though I heard Hauser & Wirth is also interested. The buzz can only be good news for those with Navas in their collections already.

 

Aboudia
Le Petit Chien Rouge (2018)

Aboudia, <em>Le Petit Chien Rouge</em> (2018). Photo courtesy Sotheby's.

Aboudia, Le Petit Chien Rouge (2018). Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Auction: Sotheby’s London Contemporary Art Day Auction, October 22, 2020

Estimate: $15,620 to $23,430

Sold For: $98,400

He goes by one name, like Madonna or Pele, and his name is Aboudia.

He’s an artist from Côte d’Ivoire now based in Brooklyn, who has achieved some modest success so far, with a handful of solo shows in his adopted hometown and across the pond. Johnny Pigozzi and Charles Saatchi, two discerning collectors of African art, both count his work in their collections.

Expected to sell at Sotheby’s for just $23,400, Le Petit Chien Rouge (2018) instead went for $98,400, easily a new record for the artist. Aboudia is, unsurprisingly, quite pleased, and took to his Instagram to screenshot the result, and then post a video of himself confidently strolling around an East River dock filled with big boats. The caption? “Boss de Brooklyn.” A bit of hubris earned.

 

Banksy
Girl With Balloon (2004)

Banksy, <i>Girl With Balloon</i> (2004). Courtesy Phillips.

Banksy, Girl With Balloon (2004). Courtesy Phillips.

Auction: Phillips London 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, October 21, 2020

Estimate: $78,000 to $108,000

Sold For: $282,000

Banksy—the anonymous graffiti king who’s been terrorizing city streets and art critics for decades—has a new trick up his sleeve. And no, it doesn’t involve making his own dismal Disneyland, staging a guerrilla retrospective in New York City, or smuggling a shredding device into Sotheby’s London.

His latest scheme, and perhaps his most impressive, is to get rich collectors who have seemingly nothing better to do with their fortunes to pay millions of dollars for Banksy works that aren’t really Banksy works at all. Now the auction craze is for Banksy editions, meaning that dozens or even hundreds of other prints like the one they bought exist in the world. Buying an edition is a pretty far cry from buying a unique spray-painted work that Banksy made under the cover of darkness, risking arrest (and there are, um, plenty of people who think those are wildly overpriced when they sell for six figures).

This new brilliant con of Banksy’s began earlier this fall, when a trio of editioned works came up for auction during the early fall off-season sales. In September, an edition from a batch of 150 identical prints that was supposed to sell for $155,400 ended up selling for $568,000 at Sotheby’s, and then an editioned work from a batch of 88 identical prints that was supposed to sell for $446,000 sold for just over $1 million. The lunacy continued into October, when Phillips sold another edition for $1.6 million. It was from a batch of just eight identical prints. But, still, that’s a diabolically high price to pay for something that’s not unique.

Yet this latest sale might be the most patently absurd. Someone paid $282,000 for a Banksy print made in an edition of 600. The people who own the 599 other editions better start selling before Banksy moves onto his next stunt.

 

Stik
Holding Hands (Maquette) (2020)

Stik <em>Holding Hands (Maquette)</em> (2020). Photo courtesy Christie's.

Stik Holding Hands (Maquette) (2020). Photo courtesy Christie’s.

Auction: Christie’s London Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale, October 23, 2020

Estimate: $104,000 to $156,000

Sold For: $374,000

It seems that the Banksy mania has trickled down to pump up the prices for other English street artists, too. One such lucky scribbler and sprayer is a man who goes by Stik, a Hackney-based artist whose claim to the streets includes an oft-repeated tale of how he once spent a stint in a homeless shelter. Why the name Stik, you ask? Because he makes stick figures. Isn’t street art fun!

This rags-to-riches story is lodged firmly in the riches chapter. In the last two years, several of his works have sold for prices in the six figures. At Christie’s last week, a maquette for a larger sculpture called Holding Hands (2020)—which features, you guessed it, two stick figures holding hands—was supposed to sell for $156,000, but instead went for $374,000, easily a record for the artist. Apparently there was a Stik work around the corner from me in the East Village for years and I had no idea what it was? Maybe you’ve got one, too.

 

Jadé Fadojutimi
Rampage (2017)

Jadé Fadojutimi, <em>Rampage</em> (2017). Photo courtesy Christie's.

Jadé Fadojutimi, Rampage (2017). Photo courtesy Christie’s.

Auction: Christie’s London First Open: Post-War & Contemporary Art Online, October 14–27, 2020

Estimate: $2,500 to $3,800

Sold For: $52,000

A few paragraphs into a British Vogue profile of the London-based artist Jadé Fadojutimi, the writer drops a pretty epic stat. Apparently, the 27-year-old Fadojutimi is the youngest artist on the planet to have a work in the Tate. And while I was not able to look through every artwork in the collection of one of the world’s grandest museums to confirm, she does indeed have a work in the collection: I Prefer Your Highness (2018), which was bought in 2019 with funds provided by Anders and Yukiko Schroeder.

Which means Fadojutimi was in the Tate before she was ever at auction, as the appearance of Rampage—a small colored-pencil-on-paper study from 2017—in this week’s First Open online sale at Christie’s was her first time going on the block anywhere. When bidding ended, the winning offer was an astounding $52,000—almost 14 times the high estimate of $3,800. What were you doing at 27?


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