Works by Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons boosted a 45.6 million pound ($68.2 million) sale in London last night, settling nerves in the market for contemporary art as almost half the successful bids were above presale estimates.
The total, including fees, at Christie’s International’s 52-lot sale was achieved against a low estimate of 40.9 million pounds ($61.2 million), based on hammer prices. Eighty-four percent of the works found buyers, who were encouraged by higher-quality art offered at competitive prices, dealers said.
A sale the previous evening at Phillips de Pury & Co., where almost half the lots were rejected, and subdued bidding at Sotheby’s on June 28 had fueled expectations that a recovery in the market may have stalled, dealers said. A slump in world stock markets added to the concern.
“The quality was higher,” Anthony McNerney, managing director of the London-based gallery Ben Brown Fine Arts, said in an interview. “There was a broader range of material, the reserves were lower and Christie’s worked hard to get buyers.”
The auction’s presale low estimate was more than double the 19 million pounds fetched by a Christie’s sale last June during the financial crisis, suggesting sellers are now more confident about offering quality material for auction.
Works by U.S. artists captured all four of the evening’s top prices, led by the 6.8 million pounds paid by a telephone bidder for Warhol’s 1963 silkscreen, “Liz,” estimated to fetch between 6 million pounds and 8 million pounds.
One of two paintings with silver backgrounds that highlight the actress’s violet-colored eyes, it had been entered by a U.S.-based seller who’d been encouraged by the $18.3 million achieved for a two-panel silver “Liz” at Christie’s New York in May, said Christie’s.
Koons’s 1999 painting “Loopy,” from the artist’s “Easyfun” series, was bought by Gagosian Gallery for a within- estimate 3.4 million pounds -- a record for a painting by the artist. Roy Lichtenstein’s 1995 acrylic, “Collage for Nude with Red Shirt,” fell to a telephone bidder at a surprise 2.7 million pounds, more than three times the upper estimate. It was one of 25 works that sold for hammer prices above forecasts.
“I was expecting a tough sale because of falls on the stock markets,” Philip Hoffman, chief executive of the London- based Fine Art Fund, said in an interview. “Christie’s had some star lots. This is a small world and it only takes a few bidders to become active to turn a sale around.”
The same telephone bidder purchased four of the evening’s most prominent successes, paying record prices for works by the Young British Artists (YBAs) Glenn Brown, Chris Ofili and Jake and Dinos Chapman.
Brown’s 9-foot-high painting “Dali-Christ,” inspired by the Spanish surrealist’s “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil War,” sold for 1.4 million pounds, while the Chapmans’ sculpture “Ubermensch,” showing physicist Stephen Hawking life-sized, perched on top of a rocky outcrop, took 241,250 pounds. Both works had been included in Charles Saatchi’s Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997.
The anonymous telephone bidder paid 1.9 million pounds for Ofili’s 1998 portrait of an African woman, “Orgena,” complete with trademark elephant dung supports, and a further 1.2 million for Gerhard Richter’s 1964 photo booth-inspired painting, “Portraet Schniewind.” The Ofili, which attracted at least four bidders, had been expected to fetch as much as 1 million pounds.
“We were concerned after what had happened last night,” Francis Outred, Christie’s European head of contemporary-art, said in an interview. “Bidders were waiting for the quality, and we had interest from right across the globe. Whatever is going on, people want to buy art.”
Fifty-eight percent of the lots were bought by European bidders, 33 percent from the U.S., four percent from Asia and five percent from “other” regions, said Christie’s.
Also among the artist’s records set was the 1.8 million pounds paid by another telephone buyer for a 1989 embroidered “Mappa” of the world by Alighiero Boetti notable for its dark blue oceans. This carried a high estimate of 1.2 million pounds.
The one major disappointment was the 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat canvas, “Untitled,” featuring a bespectacled grinning face, which failed against a low forecast of 2.5 million pounds.
The estimate was too ambitious and too many Basquiats had recently come on the market to capitalize on the current exhibition on the artist at the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, said dealers.
Christie’s contemporary evening sale total was the biggest of the week, though none of the sales exceeded their high estimates. The upper forecast at Christie’s was 58.1 million pounds.
The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index of U.S. stocks dropped 4.1 percent in the past two days.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at firstname.lastname@example.org.