AO Auction Recap – London: Christie’s Contemporary Evening Sale, February 11th, 2015

February 11th, 2015

Francis Bacon, Study for a Head (1955), via Christie's
Francis Bacon, Study for a Head (1955), via Christie’s

Another night of sales has come and gone in London, following the conclusion of Christie’s Contemporary Evening Sale, a somewhat textbook outing that saw the auction house forego a reliance on high-achieving works in favor of a series of strong selling works to reach a final tally of £117,142,500.  

Cy Twombly, Untitled (New York City) (1970), via Christie's
Cy Twombly, Untitled (New York City) (1970), via Christie’s

The sale began with the sale of a gradient-based work by R.H. Quaytman, whose work Exhibition Guide beat its £80k low estimate to notch a £110,500 final, and started moving at Lot 5, when a Yves Klein sculpture continued the artist’s strong performance from the evening before, and doubled estimates for a final price of £1,874,500 after fast-paced bidding.  It was followed immediately after by a Lucio Fontana slit canvas, which performed equally well, bringing in £2,042,500, going to David Nahmad.  A second Klein answered back, selling for £1,538,500 before the cover lot, Gerhard Richter’s Lake Lucerne landscape saw aggressive bidding that nevertheless failed to match the fireworks fro the evening prior, ultimately going to a phone bidder for a final price of £15,762,500.

Gerhard Richter, Vierwaldstätter See (Lake Lucerne) (1969), via Christie's
Gerhard Richter, Vierwaldstätter See (Lake Lucerne) (1969), via Christie’s

Sales continued to be strong over the course of the early lots.  An Andy Warhol Self-Portrait just topped estimates, selling for £3,666,500, followed shortly after by a Basquiat portrait that sold under estimate for the final price of £1,762,500, and a colorful Jean Dubuffet canvas that sold within estimate for £2,434,500.  Several underwhelming lots followed before reaching Francis Bacon’s Study for a Head, the early work from 1955.  The work opened at £6 million and quickly stalled, climbing up after some massaging by auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen to reach £10,050,500.

Gerhard Richter, Karmine (1994), via Christie's
Gerhard Richter, Karmine (1994), via Christie’s

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Three Delegates (1982), via Christie's
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Three Delegates (1982), via Christie’s

However, the evening seemed to trend towards predictability, as many of the works ultimately sold within or just over estimate, including a Damien Hirst vitrine that reached £3,050,500 (squarely within estimate), with a number of works starting with enthusiastic bidding before quickly tapering off as estimates were reached.  The next major highlight of the sale came at Lot 26, where Cy Twombly’s untitled Blackboard series work moved slowly, coaxed by Pylkkanen before reaching and hanging steady at the final price of £19,682,500 to a Chinese phone bidder.  Another Twombly several lots later continued the trend, hovering at the low estimate and bringing in £602,500.  Several lots later, another Gerhard Richter stalled at the £9 million low estimate and sold for £9,602,500.Jean Dubuffet, The Bedouin (1948), via Christie's
Jean Dubuffet, The Bedouin (1948), via Christie’s

One surprise came about halfway through the auction, as a Paolo Scheggi £1,178,500, a new world record for the artist, and nearly quadruple his estimated price.  The minimal canvas was followed by a Cy Twombly that brought £4,338,500, and a Richard Prince nurse painting that achieved £1,538,500, both within estimate.  Shortly after, another Lucio Fontana outperformed all expectations, as eager bidding pushed the work to double its low estimate to a £2,378,500 final, and was followed quickly behind by a Jean Dubuffet that performed to the same tune, selling for £2,658,500 before a 1982 Basquiat sold under estimate for £4,394,500.  A late entry by Georg Baselitz also performed well, bringing £1,022,500.

The sales will conclude tomorrow evening at Phillips, drawing the Contemporary Auction Week to a close.

Paolo Scheggi. Intersuperficie curva bianca (1967), via Christie's
Paolo Scheggi, Intersuperficie curva bianca (1967), via Christie’s

— D. Creahan

Read more:
Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale [Christie's]