London auction sales continued this week with the contemporary auctions at the major auction houses. The art market seems to be going from strength to strength, defying any fears that the party is over as both Christie’s and Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern and Contemporary Auctions showed exceptionally robust sales these past two weeks.
Total sales figures were very robust with Christie’s Modern and Contemporary evening sales generating $341.1 million, 23% more than last years’ similar sales, while Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary evening sales generated $306.8 million, 53% more than previous year sales, proving once again that the market is alive and kicking despite global economic woes, the contraction is Europe and slowing growth in much of the world, primarily China and Brazil. It seems that, with limited investment options, many collectors are increasingly looking to art as a real alternative investment opportunity.
As we highlighted in last week’s summary, sales of Impressionist and Modern Art at both Christie's and Sotheby's were very successful. The highlight of the week was the sale of a portrait by Amedeo Modigliani to an anonymous telephone bidder for $42.1 million.
Five artist records were set in these sales led by the sale of Berthe Morisot’s portrait, which was very significant as it set a new record price for a female artist at auction and sold for almost three times its high estimate for $10.9 million. This is great news for women artists. Records were also set for a sculpture by Renè Magritte and for works by Alberto Magnelli, Kay Sage and Óscar Domínguez.
As for this week’s contemporary sales, results were well beyond expectations.
The Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on Tuesday brought in a total of $116.4 million, as 44 lots sold of the 54 offered. Leading the auction was the sale of another Francis Bacon triptychs, “Three Studies for a Self-Portrait” for $21.5 million. Another Bacon piece, “Study for Portrait”, sold for $7.07 million above its estimate.
The work of Jean-Michel Basquiat continued to attract a lot of attention and strong bidding. Both his paintings - “Untitled (Pech/Oreja)” and “Five Fish Species”- sold at Sotheby’s for $10.6 million and $7.7 million respectively. His “Museum Security (Broadway Meltdown)” sold at Christie’s above its estimate for $14.6.
The sale wasn’t a total success with some over-estimated works failing to sell. Despite the high demand for his work, paintings by Gerhard Richter didn’t exactly measure up to the hype and performed as such in their mid-estimate range realized price. “Abstraktes Bild (769-1)” and “Wolke” (Cloud) were sold for $12.7 million and $11.7 million respectively. Two other Richters failed to sell. At Sotheby’s, Richter’s “Abstraktes Bild (889-14)” sold for $13.2 million, which can be seen as a disappointment as another of Richter’s “Abstraktes Bild” sold at last years’ Sotheby’s Contemporary Sale for $34.3 million, though works are different.
Optimism, big bucks and global players were all present at Christie’s Contemporary evening sale on Wednesday, which performed well above expectations, delivering $127.7 million in sales, achieving the highest total for a spring contemporary art auction at Christie’s London. Of the 72 lots offered, 65 sold to buyers from 23 countries. Francis Outred, International Director and Head of Post-War & Contemporary Art, summarized the night as an “Exciting night of Christie’s theatre saw Jussi Pylkannen excelling in the face of an unprecedented volume of bidding from around the world.”
Five artist records were set, including Peter Doig’s “The Architect’s Home in the Ravine”, sold for $11.9 million. The same painting sold for $3.8 million in 2007, and for only $500,000 six years earlier. Doig himself has expressed dismay at the price paid for this work, stating: “It made me feel sick, really…" in an interview for The Guardian, elaborating on the artifice of how the art world assigns value to a painting.
One of the hits of the contemporary auctions was Lucio Fontana. Fontana, whose work has appeared less frequently at auctions than some of his peers, scored big numbers at both auction houses. His splashed and slashed spaziales sold for higher prices than their estimates, bringing in a total of $14 million for four of his works. At Sotheby’s, two of Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale Attase sold for $2.2 million and $4.05 million. Another two of his Concetto Spaziales also sold at Christie’s for $1.7 million and $6.1 million.
This is especially impressive considering that Fontana was under-appreciated in his lifetime and that his most valuable works were created as a response to his lack of recognition. His slashed canvases - that he originally slashed out of frustration before he realized the creative potential in doing so - were shrugged off and met with critical response in the U.S. It looks as though Fontana is now getting the respect and appreciation his work and vision deserve.
What do you think? Is this the start of a great year or a peak we can only come down from?