Eric Clapton’s Richter, Record de Kooning Spur Big Returns

  • Rock star sells last of his Richter trio for $22.1 million
  • Christie’s contemporary art auction hauls in $277 million

Eric Clapton’s painting by Gerhard Richter fetched $22.1 million at Christie’s in New York on Tuesday, helping the rock star reap a hefty profit on his investment.

The 7-foot-tall “Abstraktes Bild (809-2)" was part of a trio of Richter paintings Clapton bought for $3.4 million in 2001. With this sale, the three brought in a total of $77.2 million, according to Christie’s.

Abstraktes Bild (809-2)

Source: Christie’s

The work was one of the top lots of Christie’s evening sale of postwar and contemporary art, which brought in a total of $277 million. The result was within the estimated range but a 17 percent decline from the similar auction a year ago and one-third of the tally in November 2014.

A painting by Willem de Kooning fetched $66.3 million, accounting for a quarter of the night’s tally. Asian collectors underbid several top lots but were less active throughout the sale than in recent seasons. Several lots backed by third parties had just one bidder. Americans accounted for half of the bidders and buyers at the sale, Christie’s said.

‘A Pause’

“Slow and sober,” billionaire collector Eli Broad said of the auction as he exited the room. “People are pausing.”

Untitled XXV c. 1977

Source: Christie’s International PLC

De Kooning’s “Untitled XXV" from 1977 was being sold by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the former prime minister of Georgia, through Lynden Management Ltd., according to a person familiar with the matter. The result more than doubled the previous auction record for the Abstract Expressionist artist. The winner was an anonymous client of Brett Gorvy, Christie’s global head of postwar and contemporary art, who bid by phone. Christie’s declined to comment. Ivanishvili didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Ivanishvili bought the de Kooning privately in January 2009 for about $35 million, said the person, who asked not to be named because the information is private. The gain: 89 percent in just under eight years.

Clapton’s Richter was the first of 18 paintings by the 84-year-old German artists at auction in New York this week. Estimated at $18 million to $25 million, last night’s Richter drew at least three bidders, including art dealer Paul Gray and Danqing Li, Christie’s Shanghai-based specialist in postwar and contemporary art. Gray, who works with hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, won the auction. He declined to comment on whether Griffin was the buyer.

Casualties: In all, 89 percent of the 61 lots offered found buyers. Seven pieces flopped. Ed Ruscha didn’t have a good night as two of his paintings -- one spelling the word “Truth" on green background -- failed to sell. Each was estimated at $4 million to $6 million. Two works by Roy Lichtenstein were also passed over, including a work on paper, “Reverie (Color Separation Drawing),” estimated at $4 million to $6 million.

Takeaway: "The worry going into these sales was that macro real world concerns would freeze up liquidity in the market,” said Benjamin Godsill, a New York-based art adviser. “While lacking fireworks the market is stable and resilient. There were multiple bidders for hard-to-find material that is correctly estimated while the air is growing thin for stale works or works that are aggressively estimated.”

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