Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, 1990 (est. £5-7 million, realized £7.2 million ), via Sothebys.com
February’s Contemporary Art auctions began Tuesday night at Sotheby’s London. The auction house offered fifty-nine lots (a work by Anslem Kiefer was withdrawn) with a presale estimate of £30-43 million. The sale just beat its high estimate, raising £44.4 million with a 91.5% sell-through rate by lot and 95% by value. Sotheby’s noted that this is the strongest sell-through rate they’ve had in several seasons and that combined with the Contemporary offerings at the “Looking Closely” sale last week, the auction house has sold £88.2 million worth of Contemporary art in 2011 thusfar, making it the most successful Contemporary sales season at Sotheby’s London since July 2008.
Tobias Meyer standing in front of Andy Warhol‘s Marilyns at Sotheby’s London, via Art Observed
more images and story after the jump…
The evening’s top two lots were, as expected, an abstract work by Gerhard Richter and a series of Andy Warhol’s Marilyns. Unexpected was the protest that broke out in the auction house, apparently staged by angry art students. With bidding just starting on the Warhol, alarms went off as several young men and women started moaning while throwing stacks of photocopied £50 notes into the audience. A few of them unfurled a red fabric sign that read “Orgy of the Rich.” Sotheby’s declined to comment on the brouhaha.
Just behind the Warhol was Juan Muñoz‘s Conversation Piece, which brought in nearly three times its high estimate when it sold for £3.1 million. The other two Muñoz sculptures for sale Tuesday evening found buyers for prices within presale estimates. The auction house attributed the solid performance of these works at least in part to the fact that they had lengthy stays in a museum, having all been on long term loan to the Neues Museum Weserburg in Bremen, Germany before their inclusion in the sale.
The first lot offered was a 100 kilogram pile of handmade sunflower seeds by artist and political activist Ai Weiwei. The seeds, which are like those on view at the Tate Modern, sold for £349,250 against a high estimate of £120,000. The work consists of about 100,000 seeds, making each individual seed worth about £3.50.
Three artist records were set. A rare-to-market Franz Gertsch sold for £1.5 million against a high estimate of £700,000 and set the auction record for the artist. Sotheby’s noted that the last time a Gertsch was at auction was in 1974. Most of the artist’s work resides in museums, in the hands of private collectors, and with the artist himself, explaining the demand for this photorealistic portrait of Luciano Castelli. The work was sold by the Neues Museum Weserburg in Germany.
Records were also set for Gary Hume and Yinka Shonibare. Hume’s Water Painting (Lilac) beat presale estimates when it sold for £241,250, and the sale of Shonibare’s Lady on a Unicycle for £91,250 topped the 2008 record for the artist of £84,161 set at Sotheby’s New York.
Lucio Fontana saw mixed results. Three works by the Argentine founder of Spatialism were offered on Tuesday. One beat its high estimate of £1.2 million while the other two were bought in. Works by Chris Ofili, Anish Kapoor, and Larry Rivers also failed to find buyers.
Tonight’s sale drew bidders from twelve different countries. By lot, 51% percent of buyers came from Europe/UK (including Russia), 28% from the United States, 11% from Asia, and 11% from the rest of the world. The Contemporary art auctions continue tomorrow night at Christie’s London. Check back for results.