Richter, Basquiat Top $127 Million Auction at Christie’s

"Museum Security (Broadway Meltdown)," a 1983 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. It was sold in an auction of contemporary artworks at Christie's International in London on Feb. 13. Source: Christie's Images Ltd. 2013 via Bloomberg.

Paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Peter Doig and Gerhard Richter starred in a $127 million sale as the auction market for contemporary art continued to grow.

Basquiat’s “Museum Security (Broadway Meltdown)” was the top lot of 72 at Christie’s International in London last night, selling for 9.3 million pounds ($14.5 million).

“People are looking to buy art any cost,” the Los Angeles-based dealer Michael Kohn said. “Thanks to the Internet, internationalization and the growing divide between the rich and the poor, the market just keeps expanding.”

Collectors are buying art as an alternative investment to real estate, stocks and other markets, Kohn said. Christie’s sale raised 81.7 million pounds with fees, a record for an auction of contemporary works held by the company in February.

The Basquiat, a text-packed acrylic, oilstick and paper collage work from 1983, sold to the Paris-based collector John Sayegh-Belchatowski, seated in the room, against opposition from at least two telephone bidders.

“This was the kind of Basquiat people want,” said the Cologne-based dealer Alex Lachmann. “It was an iconic work -- big, attractive and had loads of words.”

Bidders hailed from 23 different countries and 19 works sold for more than 1 million pounds, said the London-based auction house. Owner Francois Pinault was in the salesroom before the start, watching almost 100 staff members gather to take bids on telephones.

The Basquiat had been the subject of a recently resolved legal dispute between an owner, the English aristocrat, Edward Spencer-Churchill and dealers. Previously withdrawn from a Christie’s auction in New York in May 2012, it had been re-offered here, without a third-party guarantee, with an estimate of 7 million pounds to 9 million pounds.

Painting’s Beauty

“The dispute doesn’t detract from the beauty of the painting,” Sayegh-Belchatowski said after the auction.

Doig’s densely-textured 1991 landscape “The Architect’s Home in the Ravine,” showing a house glimpsed through a screen of winter trees, was making its third appearance at auction, having been bought for 314,650 pounds in 2002 by the U.K. collector Charles Saatchi. He sold it in 2007, when it fetched $3.6 million with fees.

Doig is one of the 30 or so most bankable names that dominate the top end of the auction market for contemporary art, and his Canadian landscapes from the 1990s are among his most sought-after works. Bolstered by a third-party guarantee, it here sold for a record 7.7 million pounds to a telephone bidder, against three other determined phone underbidders. It had been estimated at 4 million pounds to 6 million pounds.

“It was a very good picture from his best period,” said Lachmann. “There are no other Doigs of this quality available on the market.”

Abstract Star

Richter’s red, pink and green 2004 “Abstraktes Bild,” numbered “889-14,” had been estimated to sell for more than 7 million pounds. Never offered at auction before, and guaranteed to sell through third-party finance, it attracted two telephone bidders before selling for 8.4 million pounds.

The German painter was the biggest-selling living artist at auction in 2012, according to the Artnet database in New York, accumulating $298.9 million of sales, a 48.8 percent increase on 2011.

Demand for Richter has become more selective in 2013 as sellers’ expectations have risen. The night before at Sotheby’s, two out of four offered Richters failed. The two that did sell were knocked for hammer prices that were below the low estimate.

Bacon Boom

Bacon’s 1954 painting “Man in Blue VI” was re-offered at 4 million pounds to 6 million pounds, having 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.

While this dark painting of an anonymous businessman was not deemed the most commercial Bacon, it found a buyer, again on the telephone, at 5 million pounds.

Damien Hirst was a mainstay of auctions before the market crashed in 2009. He has become a more problematic investment in 2013.

His 1995 sheep-in-formaldehyde piece “Away From the Flock (Divided)” -- the only bifurcated example from an edition of four -- sold for $3.4 million in May 2006. Here it re-sold for 1.9 million pounds with fees against an estimate of 1.8 million pounds to 2.5 million pounds, based on hammer prices.

Allen Jones

This Christie’s sale included several distinctive works of British Pop Art, none more so than a complete set of three pieces of 1969 Allen Jones mannequin furniture. From an edition of six, these comprised a hat stand, table and chair, each incorporating a fetishistically-clad female model.

The European owner of these works had been encouraged to sell by the 2.6 million pounds paid by one bidder for a similar set in Sotheby’s Gunter Sachs Collection sale last May.

Christie’s put an estimate of 1.5 million pounds to 2 million pounds on the new trio and they were sold in the room to the London dealer Richard Nagy, bidding with a mobile phone clamped to his ear, for 2.2 million pounds.

David Hockney’s much-exhibited early Pop painting “Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head From Thebes,” dating from 1963, had remained in the same English aristocratic family since the early 1980s and had never been seen at auction before. It contributed a further 3.5 million pounds, the second highest price achieved for the artist at auction.

Austere Fontana

Other prominent results included a record 1.3 million for the 1962-1965 Michelangelo Pistoletto painted tissue paper-on-mirror, “Self-Portrait of 62,” and 4 million pounds for the austere red single-slash Lucio Fontana, “Concetto spaziale, Attesa,” dating from 1964. Both works attracted multiple bidders and more than doubled their low estimates, underlining continuing international demand for prime examples of Italian postwar art.

A 1997 Christopher Wool abstract, titled “Mad Cow,” fetched 2.3 million pounds, tripling its low estimate. This was the most expensive of eight works being sold by the German collector Ingvild Goetz to benefit various charities. They raised 4.2 million pounds against a low estimate of 1.5 million pounds.

“Better works, bigger prices,” Lachmann said, giving a simple explanation for the success of Christie’s sale, conducted by Christie’s European chairman, Jussi Pylkkanen.

Contemporary art has become the biggest-selling auction category at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, raising a record $2.7 billion in 2012, an increase of 32.5 percent on 2011, according to a report published this week the London-based analysts ArtTactic.

The auction’s total beat a presale upper estimate of 77.2 million pounds, based on hammer prices, with 90 percent of the lots successful. The previous evening, Sotheby’s raised 74.4 million pounds with fees from a smaller and less stellar sale of 54 lots.

Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars, Catherine Hickley on film and Rich Jaroslovsky on technology.

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