Bonhams Bust, Sotheby’s Soar, Phillips Power On, but Christie’s Conquer All
In Art Market | Articles28 February 2012
onhams broke the ice of the February round of post-war and contemporary art auctions in London with their Contemporary One sale held on the 13th of February at the company’s new Bond Street rooms. Bonhams once again presented a small and ambitious catalog that favored the work of living artists and included a wide variety of media. The respectable results achieved during their first ever dedicated contemporary art sale in 2011 were unable to be replicated this time round with only thirteen out of the twenty works on offer finding buyers for a sale total of £1,107,200. Compared to last year’s sale total of £2,042,700, the 2012 edition of Contemporary One produced disappointing results.
Following in the footsteps of their 2011 sale, Bonhams once again failed to sell their top lot leaving Urs Fischer’s Untitled, 2006 (estimate £400,000-600,000) without a buyer. The encouraging price of £481,250 (estimate: £300,000 – 500,000) achieved for a rather underwhelming portrait of Lucien Freud by Frank Auerbach was small consolation. Fetching the second highest price of the sale was a Richard Prince photo titled Untitled (Girlfriend), which only just scraped past the low estimate of £150,000 with the addition of the buyer’s premium for a final price of £157,250.
Christie’s produced the best result of the round with their 14th of February Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction posting a sale total of £80,576,100 that exceeded last year’s total by almost £20,000,000. Although they presented a similar catalog to Sotheby’s, Christie’s showed more confidence in the market by adding a big dollar work into the mix just as they did last year. The added risk paid off with Francis Bacon’s spectacular and fresh to auction Portrait of Henrietta Moraes finding a buyer at £21,321,250 against an unpublished estimate of £15m-£20m. Gerhard Richter’s unrivalled market dominance continued with of one the artist’s typical abstract paintings fetching the second highest price of the auction with a final total of £9,897,250 against an estimate of £5,000,000 – £7,000,000.
Christie’s set a new auction record for the truly contemporary Christopher Wool whose large enamel on aluminium emblazoned with the word ‘FOOL’ in huge letters realized £4,913,250 against an estimate of £2,500,000 – £3,500,000. Christie’s also achieved their highest total for a series of Post-War & Contemporary Art Auctions at Christie’s London realizing a series total of £109,514,400 ($172,110,443/ €130,573,642) over four sales.
Sotheby’s found success with their 15th of February London Contemporary Art Evening Auction having presented a relatively safe catalog of mid-range, good quality works by popular artists. The £50,688,450 sale total against an estimate of £35.8-49.7 million was an improvement on last year and produced new auction records for A. R. Penck and Albert Oehlen. Gerhard Richter once again dominated proceedings producing the highest price of the sale with a fresh to auction abstract painting titled Abstraktes Bild (numbered 768-4) which sold for £4,857,250 against an estimate £3-4 million). Richter also took the second, fourth and fifth highest prices of the auction.
The popularity of Chinese artist Zao Wou-Ki was again affirmed with two fresh to auction paintings fetching several times their low estimate. Selling for £1,833,250 against an estimate of £500,000 – £700,000, Wou-Ki’s 28. 12. 99 took the eighth highest price of the Sotheby’s sale followed closely by a similar work titled 10. 01. 91 that fetched 1,609,250 against an estimate of £600,000 – £800,000. The most disappointing result of the sale was Lucien Freud’s Portrait of a man which was estimated to sell for 1,500,000 – 2,000,000 but failed to find a buyer.
Phillips de Pury produced a solid result with their twenty seven lot Contemporary Art Evening auction which realized a total of £5,695,550/$8,974,478, selling twenty three of the twenty five works offered and setting new auction records were for Walead Beshty and Raymond Pettibon. Presenting a small and ambitious catalog dominated by living contemporary artists, but strengthened by the addition of a few works by artists with a more established market such as Warhol and Basquiat, Phillips achieved success where Bonhams couldn’t. The top price of the auction went to Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale which sold for £1,049,250 against an estimate of £1,000,000-1,500,000 while the biggest surprise came from a Cindy Sherman photograph, Untitled #410, that fetched £433,250 against an estimate of £200,000-300,000.
Dominated by fresh to auction works by relatively safe artists presented with reasonable estimates, the February round of post-war and contemporary art auctions produced highly promising figures but few surprise results. Works by highly desirable artists such as Richter, Bacon, Basquiat, Fontana, Manzoni and Freud provided the best results overall while top works by the more established living artists achieved the highest prices for the more contemporary sector of the sales. One of the most interesting success stories of the series was Iraqi-born contemporary American painter Ahmed Alsoudani. Given that the first auction record for Alsoudani was in 2010, and only seven of the artist’s works have appeared at auction, the two top results achieved for his work during this round of auctions were a great surprise. Phillips de Pury sold the artist’s Untitled, 2007 for £229,250 against an estimate of £200,000-300,000 while Christie’s sold Baghdad II for £541,250 against an estimate of £250,000 – £350,000.
Writing Credits: Nicholas Forrest is a Sydney/London based art market analyst, art consultant and writer. He is the founder of the Art Market Blog (artmarketblog.com) which offers independent commentaries as well as research and analysis on the current art market, and has recently been published in Fabrik magazine, Verve magazine, Visual Art Beat magazine, Australian Art Collector magazine, Art & Investment magazine and many others. Nic has made several radio appearances (both nationally and internationally) as an art market expert and has received press from the likes of the New York Times, Conde Nast Portfolio and Times of London.
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