• `I bid on 20 lots. I got three,' says art dealer Nicolo Cardi
  • Fourteen individual artist records are set during 3-hour sale

Paintings by Peter Doig, Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana led Christie’s boisterous sales of contemporary and Italian art, which tallied 78.7 million pounds ($121.5 million) in London.

The two auctions on Friday capped a marathon week coinciding with the Frieze Art Fair. Sotheby’s, Christie’s and smaller rival Phillips combined sought to sell art valued at as much as 260.8 million pounds. The results are seen as the first test of the art market’s health since a decline in stock prices in August and September rattled global investors. In May, the three auction houses sold a record $2.7 billion worth of art in New York.

“Every season the art world holds its breath,” said Jussi Pylkkanen, Christie’s global president, to see “if the results we’ve achieved in the past season are sustainable. It’s very invigorating to see that the market continues to hold its energy.”

"Cabin Essence" by Peter Doig
"Cabin Essence" by Peter Doig
Source: Christie's

The total for the auction of contemporary art, at 35.6 million pounds, was within the target range but represented a 24 percent decline from a similar event a year ago. Of the 54 lots offered, 46 found buyers and records were set for 14 artists. The sale took more than three hours.

The top lot was Doig’s landscape, depicting a gleaming Le Corbusier building through a wall of dark trees, that sold for 9.6 million pounds, in line with the estimate. It was bought by a client of Xin Li, Christie’s deputy chairman in Asia.

Artist Record

Younger artists did well, starting with the furious bidding for the evening’s first lot -- a life-size portrait of a black woman in a red blouse by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, who recently had a solo exhibition at London’s Serpentine Galleries. Estimated at 60,000 pounds to 80,000 pounds, it quickly surged to 446,500 pounds, a record for the artist at auction.

A 10-foot-by-13-foot landscape painting by Jonas Wood, the latest art world darling with a current solo show at Gagosian gallery in London, fetched 542,500 pounds, surpassing its presale high target of 350,000 pounds. The 2008 painting was being sold by advertising mogul Charles Saatchi.

“Beasely Street” by Nicole Eisenman, who won the MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant last month, fetched 182,500 pounds, within the estimated range.

An abstract painting by Albert Oehlen, who recently had a solo show at the New Museum in New York, sold for 1.1 million pounds, almost double the estimate of 600,000 pounds.

Most fireworks took place during Christie’s Italian auction that tallied 43.2 million pounds, the highest for the category and a 56 percent increase from a year ago. Six artist records were set, including those for Giorgio Morandi, Vincenzo Agnetti and Luciano Fabro.

“Italy is back,” said Giovanna Bertazzoni, Christie’s deputy chairman and senior international director of Impressionist and modern art. “The economy is on track. People are more confident. There’s a stable government. And that has translated into an amazing Italian presence in London during Frieze week.”

Southeby’s Sale

A day earlier, Sotheby’s sold art valued at 40.4 million pounds at its Italian sale, with 10 works by Fontana accounting for 23.4 million pounds. The artist’s black, punctured, egg-shaped canvas, “Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio (The End of God),” fetched 15.9 million pounds, the artist’s auction record and the week’s top lot.

At Christie’s, the top lot was Alberto Burri’s “Rosso Plastica M1,” a 1961 painting depicting a blood-red central mass surrounded by burnt plastic. Pursued by more than 10 bidders, the piece fetched 3.4 million pounds, surpassing its high estimate.

“Rosso Plastica M1” by Alberto Burri
“Rosso Plastica M1” by Alberto Burri
Source: Christie's

The sale included 12 paintings by Fontana, Italy’s best-selling artist at auction, of which 11 found buyers, generating 13.2 million pounds, almost a third of the auction’s tally. Five works by the artist were among the evening’s top 10 lots.

Fontana Paintings

Of Fontana’s pieces, the sale was led by a white 1967 canvas with six vertical slashes. It fetched 2.7 million pounds, surpassing the high estimate of 1.5 million pounds.

Rapid-fire bidding between Italian art dealer Nicolo Cardi and Los Angeles-based entrepreneur Stefan Simchowitz, who were sitting side by side, pushed the price for Michelangelo Pistoletto’s 1971 reflective painting of a naked woman drinking tea to 2.2 million pounds, 1 million pounds above its high estimate.

Morandi’s 1939 stilllife, depicting a group of vessels -- the artist’s signature subject -- fetched 2.5 million pounds, an auction record for the modernist painter.

“This is a real market,” said Cardi, whose gallery is based in London and Milan. “I bid on 20 lots. I got three.”

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