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Richter, Basquiat Works Boost $200 Million U.K. Auctions

'Man in Blue VI'
"Man in Blue VI" (1954) by Francis Bacon. Previously included in an auction in 2009, where it failed to sell, it will be part of a 74-lot auction of contemporary art at Christie's International on Feb. 13. Source: Christie's Images Ltd. 2013 via Bloomberg

Paintings by Gerhard Richter and Jean-Michel Basquiat will push the value of London arts sales next month through $200 million as sellers try to capitalize on growing demand for works by bankable contemporary artists.

Christie’s International will be auctioning the two works with hammer-price estimates of more than 7 million pounds ($11 million) on Feb. 13. Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips raised a record $1.1 billion with fees at contemporary-art events in New York in November as wealthy U.S. individuals, nervous of possible tax rises, sunk money into tangible assets.

“There was a lot of American buying triggered by what was potentially going to happening in December,” Francis Outred, Christie’s European head of contemporary art, said in an interview. U.S. clients represented 72 percent of the buyers at Christie’s in November, he said. “It will be interesting to see if that momentum is maintained in London in February.”

The formal estimate for the three auction houses’ evening auctions of contemporary art next month in London is at least 132 million pounds, according to Bloomberg calculations, an increase of 37.5 percent on the minimum value put on the equivalent sales last year.

Christie’s event is estimated to raise at least 57.2 million pounds. The bumper offering of 74 lots includes Basquiat’s 1983 text-packed acrylic, oilstick and paper collage “Museum Security (Broadway Meltdown)” and Richter’s red, pink and green 2004 “Abstraktes Bild,” numbered “889-14.”

Blue Bacon

Bacon’s 1954 painting “Man in Blue VI” is re-offered at 4 million pounds to 6 million pounds. The work failed to sell at Christie’s in February 2009, when the previous contemporary art-market boom ended, with a low estimate of 4 million pounds.

Damien Hirst’s 1995 sheep-in-formaldehyde piece “Away from the Flock (Divided)” is priced at 1.8 million pounds to 2.5 million pounds. The only bifurcated example from an edition of four, this previously appeared at auction in May 2006, when it sold for $3.4 million.

Lots selling for more than $1 million accounted for 88 percent of the total value of evening sales in 2012, according to the London-based analysts ArtTactic.

“Between 25 and 30 artists account for the lion’s share of the market place at auctions,” Anders Petterson, the founder of ArtTactic, said in an interview. “That’s what the buyers feel safe with. They’re holding art as protection against financial volatility, if not actually making a profit, and they’re gaining social status.”

ArtTactic Confidence

ArtTactic’s twice-yearly “U.S. & European Contemporary Art Market Confidence Indicator” is at 59.4, up 25 percent since June 2012. A jump in the Economic Confidence Indicator to 47.2 from 18.1 was the main factor in the change of mood, said the report, based on the responses of 127 experts, to be published tomorrow.

Two more Basquiat paintings will headline Phillips’s first contemporary art sale in London under its new branding, without its charismatic auctioneer, Simon de Pury.

Basquiat’s desirably dated 1982 painting-on-paper “Untitled,” showing a mask-like face with a halo, is valued at 1.8 million pounds to 2.5 million pounds. The 1985 canvas “For B.A.M.,” featuring a free-floating head and potted plant, is priced at 1.2 million pounds to 1.8 million pounds.

A 1964 Andy Warhol silk-screened “Brillo Soap Pads Box,” wrapped in its original plastic, is estimated to fetch between 600,000 pounds and 800,000 pounds. Back in 2006, this same piece sold for $710,400 at auction. None of these three works is guaranteed, said the New-York based auction house.

Highly Valued

Phillips’s Feb. 14 event will comprise 36 lots with a low estimate of 12.7 million pounds, more than double the 4.7 million-pound minimum valuation of February 2012.

Sotheby’s Feb. 12 auction of contemporary works is the most highly valued of the week, with a minimum estimate of 62.1 million pounds.

Bacon’s 1980 “Three Studies for a Self-Portrait” is the only work in this London series with an eight-figure estimate. One of 11 such smaller-scale triptychs, and painted when the artist was 71 years of age, it has been entered by a European collector with a low valuation of 10 million pounds.

Muse highlights include Martin Gayford on art and Craig Seligman on books.

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