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Monday, July 30, 2012

BLUE-CHIP WORKS FIND BUYERS AT CHRISTIE’S AND SOTHEBY’S



Blue-chip works find buyers at Christie's and Sotheby's
Post-war and contemporary sales in London are strong, but market jitters persist

By Gareth Harris and Javier Pes. Web only
Published online: 28 June 2012

On the eve of the post-war and contemporary art auctions in London this week, and after reportedly strong sales at Art Basel (13-17 June), art-world observers and financial experts questioned for how much longer the art market, especially at the top end, would remain unaffected by the turmoil in the global economy. Respectable sales figures for Sotheby's 79-lot contemporary art evening auction on 26 June (87.3% by lot and 93.4% by value) belie the lukewarm reception for most of the works on offer. The total sale figure of £69.3m meant that Sotheby's comfortably achieved the pre-sale estimate of £57.5m to £82.5m (these figures do not include commission), but the lacklustre performance is a far cry from the auction house's highest ever total for a contemporary art auction in London of £108.8m in June 2011.

Bidding was notably sluggish for works by blue-chip artists. Jean-Michel Basquiat's Warrior, from the most coveted period of the early 1980s, limped to £4.95m under the hammer, just short of its £5m low estimate; the work fetched £5.6m with buyer's premium, making the arresting image the top lot in the sale. Even a strong 1980 painting by Francis Bacon, Study for Self-Portrait, backed by an irrevocable bid, failed to ignite the restless crowd in the saleroom, attracting one bid on the phone via Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby's chairman of contemporary European art; the work sold for £4.5m with buyer's fee (est £5m-£7m). There was, nonetheless, an appetite for art by the current market bellwether, the German stalwart Gerhard Richter, whose 1995 photorealist painting Jerusalem achieved an albeit anti-climactic £4.2m (est £3m-£5m).

Few works surpassed their high estimates but notable exceptions included Jean Dubuffet's Chérubin Oiuistiti, 1962 (£993,250; est £300,000-£400,000), and Damien Hirst's 1994 painting Jolly (£601,250; est £180,000-£250,000). A tense bidding war between seven international bidders for a large-scale apocalyptic canvas by Glenn Brown, The Tragic Conversion of Salvador Dali (after John Martin), 1998, was a rare high point, culminating in a record sale for the artist of £5.2m (est £2.2m-£2.8m). Big-name rival dealers in the room swooped on established names: Larry Gagosian bought a 2003 c-print, Arena III, by Andreas Gursky (£265,250; est £250,000-£350,000), while Thaddaeus Ropac appeared delighted with his acquisition of Joseph Beuys's installation Tisch mit Aggregat, 1958-85 (£601,250; est £500,000-£700,000).

Such activity prompted the question of whether the material on offer, or the market itself, was flat, with mid-range works especially vulnerable. “The material was difficult and the Bacon self-portrait could have done better,” said the secondary market New York dealer Christophe Van de Weghe. “Why park your cash in one of the Basquiats on offer here when you have a better example available at Christie's tomorrow?” said a London dealer who preferred to remain anonymous.


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