Sotheby’s Caps Off Frieze Week With Record Contemporary Auction
Basquiat, Richter and Doig lead vibrant sale
Bringing up the rear of London’s Frieze week auctions, Sotheby’s offered its shortest evening sale—in terms of lots—since 2009, with just 34 works on offer.
However, the contemporary estimate, at £24.1—41.7 million ($37.9—51.4 million), though, was among the highest. It goes to show that if the lot numbers are down, auction houses can still keep the totals up – or at least try to do so.
In Sotheby’s case, they certainly achieved that with a £47.9 million ($59.6 million) sale, the highest ever Frieze week evening sale, beating Christie’s £46.9 million ($59.5 million) total in 2014. Sotheby’s was using an exchange rate of 1.24 dollars to the pound, although the rate had officially sunk below that earlier in the day.
The sale certainly boasted several higher estimates than anything during the preceding evening’s auction. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s five-foot square Hannibal (1982) had changed hands a couple of times since it was last auctioned in 1993 for $79,500. During that time we all know what has happened, on the surface at least, and the £3.5 million ($4.4 million) estimate for this painting—which happened to be a good year for Basquiat—proved soft as the bids accumulated from advisor, Abigail Asher and dealer, Stefan Simchowitz, among others, before selling to a phone bidder for £10.6 million ($13.1 million)
Similarly, Gerhard Richter’s abstract, Garten from 1982, was last at auction in 1987 when it sold for £49,500. Reflecting another market which went ballistic until slowing down recently, this richly coloured painting, from the IBM collection, was now estimated at £3—4 million ($3.8—5 million) but showed the Richter market back at full strength selling for £10.2 million ($12.7 million).
Two other Richters from same collection, all bought from now disgraced German consultant Helge Achenbach, also sold well. A smaller, predominantly yellow 1986 abstract, had four bidders at the £1 million ($1.3 million) low estimate, including one from Asia, before selling for £2.9 million ($3.7 million). The early 1968 Saulen (Columns), was the most difficult, consisting of seven simple upright paintings, part figurative, part geometrical abstract, and sold at the high estimate for £2.9 million ($3.7 million) including premium to an Asian buyer.
Only two works were guaranteed, and with irrevocable bids. Peter Doig’s much traded Grasshopper, 1990, previously in the collections of Hans Astrup and then Charles Saatchi, who bought it in 2003 for what was considered an excessive £229,000, was back on the block for the fourth time in 13 years with a £2.8—3.5 million ($3.6—4.4 million) estimate. This did not seem to deter bidders, among them Jasmine Chen, a Sotheby’s representative in Asia, as the painting sold for £5.9 million ($7.3 million).
David Hockney’s Guest House Wall, 2000, a taster perhaps for his big, late painting coming up in New York in November with a $9/12 million estimate, was estimated at £1.8—2.5 million ($2.3—3.2 million), but it attracted little competition selling on the low estimate, possibly to the guarantor, for £2.2 million ($2.7 million).
The sale was punctuated with vigorous bidding, taking prices way beyond their previous levels. An Alexander Calder mobile , Two Legs and a Belly, 1959, saw bidding leap from £300,000 to £400,000 ($380,000 to $507,000) and then £500,000 in single increments. Dealer, Christophe van de Weghe tried valiantly to keep up, but was left trailing when it sold for a double estimate £905,000 ($1.1 million). The Calder last sold just four years ago for £623,650 ($990,250), or less than half the amount – in pounds sterling at least. Van de Weghe was also in the running for a Christopher Wool black and white painting Minor Mishap, which last sold in New York for $450,000 (£230,000), but was outgunned by a phone bidder at £1.3 million ($1.7 million).
There was a healthy mark up too for Der Bote, an upside down painting by Georg Baselitz, last sold in 2004 for £124,435 ($233,000). Now estimated at £350,000 ($445,000) it sold to Baselitz dealer, Thaddaeus Ropac for £581,000 ($737,000).
The German market was generally in fine shape. Apart from the Richters and the Baselitz, an alchemical Sigmar Polke oil and spray paint, Spirale, from 1985, sold in 2008 for £597,000 ($1.2 million), was bought above estimate for £2.6 million ($3.2 million), by the busiest buyer of the week, Stefan Simchowitz. Records were also set for recently discovered 60-year old painter, Michael Krebber, when an untitled painting sold for a double estimate £191,000 ($237,318); and for Gunther Forg when a two-panel, large abstract painting from 1986, sold for a mid estimate £629,000 ($781,532).
Altogether, even though the weak pound must have played its part, it was a very positive end to a positive week.
Italian Sale Highlights
Sothebys’ Italian sale raised £23.3 million ($45.4 million) tonight, near the low estimate. The top lot, Alberto Burri’s Rosso Plastica 5, 1962, sold to collector Dimitri Mavrommatis sitting in the third row, on a bid just above the low estimate for a premium inclusive £4.7 million ($5.8 million). The painting had been guaranteed with an irrevocable bid, and it appeared that Mavrommatis made a single bid above that irrevocable bid to secure the painting.
The second highest lot was Salvatore Scarpitta’s pleated crimson bandage painting, Forager for Plankton, 1959, which doubled the low estimate to sell for an auction record of £2.2 million ($2.7 million). The buyer was art advisor, Christopher Eykyn. A retrospective exhibition is being staged by the Luxembourg and Dayan gallery in New York, and, while both partners were in the saleroom, neither were seen to bid.
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