Following strong but subdued outings last week during the London summer sales, attention turns to the Contemporary market in the UK, as a trio of sales this week will usher in the summer months. The sales start tomorrow, spanning three nights in the British capital, and drawing the first half of the year’s major sales to a close.
The sales open this week at Phillips on Monday, June 29th, featuring a 53-lot sale topped a trio of busts and portraits. A set of Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac Heads leads the sale with a £3-£5 million estimate, followed by a Bruce Nauman work, Hanging Heads # 1, a pair of dangling heads on wire, estimated at £1,500,000 – £2,500,000, that fit nicely in contrast with the Ai sculptures and the other top lot, a series of Andy Warhol prints of Marilyn Monroe, offered for £1,000,000 – £1,500,000. Other highlights include one of Raqib Shaw’s meticulously detailed, mythologically informed paintings, estimated at £700,000 – £1,000,000, as well as a bizarre, overlaid Sigmar Polke piece, selling for £1,000,000 – £1,500,000.
The next night, Christie’s will try its hand at another strong Contemporary outing, bringing a 76-lot auction estimated to achieve £83,000,000 – £118,000,000 in sales. The impressively stocked sale features a number of strong works, including its lead work, a 1962 fire painting by Yves Klein, dotted in deep blues and pinks, and priced at £20 million or more. The work is joined by a pair of Francis Bacon portraits, Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne and George Dyer (est. £8,000,000 – £12,000,000), and Two Men Working in a Field (est. £7,000,000 – £10,000,000). The top of the sale is rounded out by Gerhard Richter’s Trees in Field, a startling photorealist composition priced at £4,000,000 – £6,000,000.
Sales conclude on Wednesday with a 59-lot sale at Sotheby’s, already trumpeted as “London’s highest valued auction of contemporary art,” a bit of hyperbole that won’t be lost on those watching a similarly billed auction of Modernist and Impressionist works fall shy of that distinction after lackluster interest and stale bidding. Even so, the auction boasts a £146,000,000 to £208,000,000 pre-sale estimate, a figure that could still turn heads if buyers seem enthusiastic about the work on sale. The sale is lead by an impressive Francis Bacon canvas that should get the auction off to a strong start, one of the artist’s foremost pope paintings that twists his subjects face inward in a seemingly innocent, yet ultimately horrifying inversion. The work, priced at £25,000,000 — £35,000,000, should help to set the tone for the rest of the sale, as will an Andy Warhol work ten lots later, One Dollar Bill, priced at £13,000,000 — £18,000, an early work by the artist which should offer a strong trophy for bidders. Another Warhol from the same series follows close behind, boasting a similar £12,000,000 — £18,000,000 valuation, as do another pair of Bacons, anticipated to top £10 million.
With high estimates and high hopes, this week’s auctions will test the auction houses’ ability to continue delivering record-breaking results in the face of what could be some buyer fatigue at the high end of the market. Art Observed will be covering live on our Instagram and Twitter.
— D. Creahan
Sotheby’s Contemporary and Post-War Evening Sale London [Sotheby’s]
Christies Contemporary and Post-War Evening Sale London [Christie’s]
Phillips Contemporary Evening Sale London [Phillips]