Emin’s Record Messy Bed Boosts Christie’s London Auction

Tracey Emin’s bed, strewn with cigarette butts, discarded condoms and empty booze bottles, was among the top pieces at Christie’s 99.4 million-pound ($170.5 million) postwar and contemporary art sale in London yesterday.

The provocative British artist, 50, sat in the front of the packed salesroom as her 1998 piece, “My Bed,” surged from the opening bid of 650,000 pounds to the final price of 2.5 million pounds, including buyer’s commission. The result smashed her previous auction record of 481,875 pounds and more than doubled the expected high target of 1.2 million pounds.

“Not yours here, Tracey,” auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen said to the artist in jest as he wielded multiple bids from the podium.

The work was consigned by Charles Saatchi, the art collector and advertising executive, who bought it in 2000. The proceeds from its sale will benefit the Saatchi Gallery’s foundation, the auction house said.

One of the best-known pieces to come out of the Young British Artists movement of the 1990s, the work displays the artist’s unmade bed surrounded by all kinds of personal detritus. “My Bed” sparked debate about the meaning of art when it was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999 and exhibited in London.

Christie’s evening tally was within the company’s estimated range of 78.9 million pounds to 114.9 million pounds and represented a 42 percent increase from its similar auction a year ago, which raised 70.1 million pounds. Seven artist records were achieved, including those for Jean Dubuffet, Hurvin Anderson and Michelangelo Pistoletto.

Richter, Pollock

On June 30 in the U.K. capital, rival Sotheby’s sold 51 of 59 offered lots, tallying 93.1 million pounds.

Of the 75 lots offered by Christie’s, 12 failed to sell. Casualties included pieces by market stars Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter and Jackson Pollock.

“When you are in the price range between $500,000 and $5 million, collectors are savvy and discerning,” said Suzanne Gyorgy, global head of art advisory and finance at New York-based Citigroup Inc.’s Citi Private Bank. “Just because it’s a Warhol or a Richter, they are not going to buy it purely on the name. They are looking for the best pieces.”

Like at Sotheby’s the night before, the top lot was a painting by Bacon. The Irish-born painter’s portrait of fellow artist Lucian Freud, “Study for Head of Lucian Freud,” sold for 11.5 million pounds, within the estimate range. It came from the estate of Roald Dahl, author of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach.”

Sotheby’s Bacon, “Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer,” had fetched 26.7 million pounds.

Double Doig

Bacon works are increasingly dominating major sales since his triptych depicting friend and rival Freud fetched $142.4 million at Christie’s in November in New York, a record for any artwork at auction.

Peter Doig came in second at both major auction houses this week. The Christie’s sale broke his record, established a day earlier at Sotheby’s where the Scottish artist’s 1999 landscape “Country-Rock (wing-mirror)” sold for 8.5 million pounds. At Christie’s, Doig’s 2002-2004 oil painting “Gasthof” went for 9.9 million pounds.

Asian clients competed for trophy pieces. Xin Li, Christie’s deputy chairman in Asia, was the underbidder on the Bacon.

Li’s client, with paddle No. 887, won Keith Haring’s “Tree of Life” painting for 1.5 million pounds. Another client, whose paddle was 888, bought Dubuffet’s 1963 “Le Gai Savoir” for 4 million pounds. The price surpassed the high estimate of 2.8 million pounds and set an auction record for the French artist.

Squiggly Lines

Younger artists did well. Pylkkanen said he had 10 bids for a 2011 painting by 33-year-old German artist David Ostrowski -- before the bidding even started. Estimated at 30,000 pounds to 50,000 pounds, the work, showing squiggly blue lines on a white background, sold for 104,500 pounds.

Anderson’s 2009 painting “Afrosheen,” depicting an empty barbershop, soared to 1.3 million pounds, more than three times its high presale estimate of 400,000 pounds. The price set an auction record for the British painter, whose previous high of 542,500 pounds was achieved a day earlier at Sotheby’s.

“It went boom, boom, boom,” Gyorgy said, describing the bidding at Christie’s.

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