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Battling Collectors Boost Record Sculpture at $61 Million Sale

Marino Marini Sculpture
A Marino Marini sculpture, ``Cavaliere,'' sold for a record 4.5 million pounds ($7.2 million) at Christie's International's Italian auction in London on Oct. 14, 2010. Sold by the Swedish trade union organization, The Unionen, it had been estimated to fetch between 1.2 million pounds and 1.8 million pounds. Source: Christie's Images Ltd. via Bloomberg.

Oct. 15 (Bloomberg) -- A bidding battle for a Marino Marini sculpture last night was the highlight of back-to-back auctions of contemporary and 20th-century Italian art that raised more than double the total achieved in 2009.

Christie’s International’s Frieze Week evening sales in London made 38.2 million pounds ($61.15 million) as the bronze statue of a horseman ecstatically throwing out his arms sold for an artist record price of 4.5 million pounds, beating an estimate of as much as 1.8 million pounds.

“It was a great cast and had never been on the market before,” the Brussels and Paris-based dealer Paolo Vedovi said of the Marini. “There’s demand for great sculpture, as was shown by the Giacometti at Sotheby’s in February.”

Giacometti’s life-size statue “L’Homme Qui Marche I” (Walking Man I) from Dresdner Bank AG’s collection sold for 65 million pounds in London on Feb. 3. Yesterday’s event showed that art would sell with realistic estimates, particularly among the 51 contemporary works selected to appeal to the collectors in London for the Frieze Art Fair and other events, dealers said.

The Italian material contributed a record 18.6 million pounds, beating a low estimate of 14.3 million pounds. Just 22 percent of the lots fell to Italian buyers, underlining the extent to which artists such as Marini, Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni appeal to international buyers, said the auction house.

The four-foot (1.2 meter) Marini, “Cavaliere,” one of an edition of five cast before 1955, was sold by the Swedish trade union, the Unionen, which had owned it for more than 50 years. It fell to an unidentified telephone buyer.

Manzoni ‘Achrome’

Seventy-eight percent of the Italian lots sold, with a 1958-59 Manzoni “Achrome” selling to a telephone bid of 1.7 million pounds against a low estimate of 1.35 million pounds.

Christie’s sold 86 percent of its contemporary pieces, raising 19.6 million pounds against a low estimate of 16 million pounds. A quarter of the works sold for hammer prices that were above their high estimates.

“The auction house managed to keep the estimates more realistic than June and there’s confidence among buyers,” the New York-based dealer Christophe van de Weghe said. “People really want to spend money on art again.”

Much presale attention had been focused on the 2006 Damien Hirst “butterfly” painting, “I am become death, shatterer of worlds.” The 17 foot (5 meter) abstract was estimated at as much as 3.5 million pounds, making it the most valuable work by the artist to have appeared at auction since 2008.

Featuring circular explosions of color inspired by nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer’s quotation from the Bhagavad Gita, it was being sold by a U.S. collector, Christie’s said.

Hirst ‘Butterfly’

On the night, it attracted little competition, selling to a telephone bidder for 2.2 million pounds, against a low estimate of 2.5 million pounds. Another Hirst butterfly work of the same size sold for 4.7 million pounds at Phillips de Pury & Co. in October 2007.

“We know that the market for Hirst is difficult,” van de Weghe said. “It’s positive that it sold, and $3 million is a lot of money for a painting.”

Four phone bidders fought for the 1991 Andreas Gursky photograph, “New York Stock Exchange,” that had formerly hung in the London offices of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. It made 433,250 pounds, beating a top estimate of 150,000 pounds.

London-based dealer Daniella Luxembourg was a prominent buyer. She paid 1.9 million pounds for a pair of 2005 Takashi Murakami sculptures, “Kaikai Kiki” -- more than four times their low estimate -- and 1.5 million pounds for the 1986 Jean-Michel Basquiat mixed-media work, “Negro Period.”

Earlier in the day, dealers reported sales from the fourth annual Pavilion of Art & Design fair in Berkeley Square.

Auerbach Nude

London-based dealer Simon Dickinson sold a 1965 Frank Auerbach nude, “E.O.W. on Her Blue Eiderdown II,” as the fair was opening to VIP visitors on Oct. 11. Dickinson wouldn’t reveal the price of the thickly impasted oil; dealers said it was marked between 1 million pounds and 2 million pounds.

The same price bracket was attached to each of the three Pablo Picasso oil paintings sold by Espace Nelombos from Geneva. The works, dating from the 1960s and consigned by private owners, sold to collectors from Switzerland and the U.K.

The event in Mayfair is organized by French dealers and comprises 50 traders in modern art, design and decorative arts.

“I want to live here,” the Pimlico Road design dealer Gordon Watson said after selling 25 pieces by the fourth afternoon of the event. “Initially it’s related to London-based international shoppers, then a second group of rich clients who don’t live in the U.K. come to the fair.”

Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, fashion designer L’Wren Scott, bought several pieces on the opening night, Watson said. Prices at his booth range from 1,400 pounds to 24,000 pounds.

(Scott Reyburn writes 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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at

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