Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, 1990 (est. £5-7 million), via Sothebys.com
The February auctions continue this week in London with Contemporary Art sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips de Pury. The day after Valentine’s Day buyers can cozy up to sixty lots at the Sotheby’s Contemporary art evening sale that are estimated to bring upwards of £30 million. The following night Christie’s will offer sixty-four lots that are expected to fetch £36-52 million. Phillips de Pury closes the week’s auctions with a twenty-nine lot sale that carries an estimate of £5.8-8.5 million. Christie’s is the only house to have officially released their 2010 global sales figures, and the numbers are impressive. The company sold £3.3 billion (or $5 billion) worth of art last year, more than any previous year in their 245-year history. Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s Chairman of Contemporary Art London, revealed that the firm sold $845 million worth of Contemporary art in 2010 and that this is the third-highest total at the company in the field. At November’s Contemporary art auctions Phillips de Pury debuted a sparkling new gallery space on Park Avenue in New York and had the biggest sale of the week when Andy Warhol’s Men in Her Life sold for $63.4 million. It was a good year for Contemporary art, and the results of this week’s sales are expected to indicate whether the market will continue to recover in 2011 as it did in 2010.
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The headlining work at Sotheby’s is an abstract work by auction stalwart Gerhard Richter. Abstraktes Bild carries a presale estimate of £5-7 million and has the highest estimate of any work offered at all three Contemporary sales. Never far from the top, Andy Warhol‘s Nine Multicoloured Marilyns carries the second highest estimate with hopes it fetches £2-3 million. The canvas is a part of Warhol’s Reversals series, wherein the artist “appropriated” images from his own iconography and painted them with the tonal values reversed. A similar work sold at Phillips in 2008 for £2.5 million.
The Sotheby’s sale features a number of works by contemporary British artists. David Hockney‘s Hotel L’Arbois, Sainte-Maxime headlines this segment of the sale and is estimated to bring as much as £1.5 million. The painting was acquired by the present owner at Sotheby’s New York back in 2005 for $968,000. Other British artists to be featured in the auction are Bridget Riley, Frank Auerbach, and Glenn Brown.
Another distinctly British work for sale is a comparatively small scale version of Angel of the North by Antony Gormley, one of the most well known sculptures in all of England. The full size version was created in 1997 and resides in the Northern England town of Gateshead. The piece is one of an edition of twelve plus an artist’s proof. One of the maquettes made headlines in 2008 when it was evaluated on the Antiques Roadshow for £1 million and became the most expensive work ever appraised on the show. This week Sotheby’s hopes its version brings £400,000-600,000.
Coinciding with the Tate Modern’s Unilever Turbine Hall commission, Sotheby’s will offer a one hundred kilogram pile of handmade porcelain sunflower seeds by Ai Weiwei. The artist is one of the most important figures in Contemporary Chinese art and is known for the political critiques embedded in his work. Earlier this year the Chinese government destroyed his Shanghai studio after claiming that Ai did not follow land use regulations when building the complex, though the artist suspects the demolition had to do instead with his anti-Communist stance and political activism. Just this month the trailer was released for a documentary film about the artist that is to be released this spring. Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds) is the first of the sunflower seed works to be offered at auction, and it is sure to attract piqued interest in light of recent events.
A large self portrait by Andy Warhol is the featured lot at the Christie’s sale. The canvas measures six foot square and shows the Pop art icon in a contemplative pose with his hand on his cheek and a finger over his mouth. The piece, which is estimated to fetch up to £5 million was originally made for the American Pavilion at Expo ’67 in Montreal.
Christie’s is also offering an adorable pair of sculpted wooden bears by Jeff Koons. The 1988 work is part of Koons’ Banality series, which also includes Michael Jackson and Bubbles, an edition of three porcelain sculptures showing the late Pop star reclining with his arm around his pet chimp, Bubbles. The Banality series was exhibited simultaneously in three international galleries and is the artist’s version of a Garden of Eden, with this bear couple representing Adam and Eve. They are expected to fetch between £2.5-3.5 million.
A de Kooning is being offered with the hopes it brings £2.4-2.8 million. The work belongs to the late and often overlooked chapter of the artist’s career. Known for his densely painted canvasses that are built up with aggressive brush strokes, de Kooning’s largely white paintings with fluid lines in primary colors from the 1980s are almost unrecognizable as his. They’ve been both dismissed as being a product of the mental degradation de Kooning suffered from at the end of his life and celebrated as the true culmination of his artistic output.
Lucio Fontana‘s Concetto Spaziale was last seen on the market in 2006, when the current owner picked it up at Christie’s New York for $2.7 million. This time around the work carries an estimate of £2-3 million. A large, yellow, and fresh-to-market Basquiat is being offered with the same presale estimate.
Another Basquiat, this one from 1985, is the top lot at Phillips de Pury’s Contemporary evening sale. The vertical picture has a part-human part-animal head in the foreground that is interpreted as a self portrait of the artist against a backdrop of frenetic urban life. It is expected to bring at least £1 million.
The catalog’s cover lot is a thanka-like painting by Indian artist Raqib Shaw. Shaw, who was born in India but lives and works in London, creates his paintings using a porcupine quill to manipulate enamel paint in a technique similar to cloisonné. With the addition of encrusted jewels, the effect is scintillating. The Absence of God series is the artist’s second major body of work following the Garden of Earthly Delights series, which was exhibited at White Cube in London and the Karlsplatz Project Space in Vienna.
Phillips is including six highlights from the Valencia Contemporary Art Collection during the evening sale. The rest of the offerings from that collection will be presented alongside the during a single owner sale the following day. A painting by the Russian duo Ilya and Emilia Kabakov that is suspended from the ceiling from an upside-down easel is one of the evening lots and is expected to fetch £400,000-600,000.
November’s Contemporary evening sales in New York brought it more than half a billion dollars and were boosted by an insatiable appetite for Pop art. The question is whether this round of sales will perform well without big-ticket offerings comparable to what was seen last year. Check back for onsite coverage of these auctions.
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction e-Catalog [Sotheby's]
Christie’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction e-Catalog [Christie's]
Phillips de Pury Contemporary Art Evening Auction e-Catalog [Phillips de Pury]
Warhol Portrait, Koons Bears to Boost $116 Million London Sales [Bloomberg]
London Auctions Brim with Comeback Kids [Wall Street Journal]
Christie’s Sales Surged 53% in 2010 on Contemporary-Art Rebound [Bloomberg]
Warhol Leads Contemporary Sale [Arts & Collections International]
Christie’s Sells $5B in 2010, Sales Up 53% [Art Market Views]