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Basquiat Tops $8.7 Million Auction; Buyer Fatigue Crimps Demand

"Overrun" (1985) by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for 1.1 million pounds with fees at an evening auction of 29 lots of contemporary art at Phillips de Pury & Co. in London. Source: Phillips de Pury via Bloomberg

Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- A Jean-Michel Basquiat painting was the most expensive lot at a London sale as dealers said demand was tempered by caution and fatigue from a week of auctions.

Phillips de Pury & Co’s offering of 29 lots last night raised 5.4 million pounds ($8.7 million), with the mixed-media work by Basquiat accounting for 1.1 million pounds of the total.

“Considering everything, the sale was solid,” the New York- and Sao Paulo-based private dealer Andrew Terner said. “At the end of the week, people are tired. Phillips is a more intimate, boutique salesroom. Sotheby’s and Christie’s International are the machines that generate the big bucks.”

Auction prices for some contemporary works are rising, with 61.4 million pounds sold at Christie’s the evening before -- the highest total in London since 2008 at the height of the boom.

Basquiat’s 1985 painting “Overrun” featured an urban landscape covered in texts above a skull-like head. Offered by a Swiss collector, it was bought by a European telephone bidder. Its hammer-price estimate was 1 million pounds to 1.5 million pounds.

The 2008 painting “Absence of God III: And His Tears of Blood Will Drown the Cities of Men II,” by Raqib Shaw sold to a phone buyer for 553,250 pounds. Though the price fell short of the low estimate of 600,000 pounds, the seller, who had bought the work from the White Cube in London within the last two years, made a profit, said dealers.

Rudolf Stingel’s 2002 aluminum foil “Untitled” was one of six works from the Valencia Contemporary Art Collection. It sold to the London-based adviser Hailey Ritcheson for 361,250 pounds, against an estimate of 300,000 pounds to 500,000 pounds.

Marlene Dumas’s 1993 painting “Equality” was another Valencia Collection entry, selling to a phone bid of 121,250 pounds against a top valuation of 120,000 pounds.

The auction’s low estimate was 5.7 million pounds, based on hammer prices. Though the total was down on the 6.1 million pounds raised last February, 83 percent of the works found buyers.

“The market is even-keeled and somewhat rational,’’ Michael McGinnis, Phillips’s head of contemporary art, said after the sale.

(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 sreyburn@hotmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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