The first week of 2016’s Contemporary Art auctions concluded this evening, as Christie’s capped a solid sale of works that further disrupted any easy conclusions on a widely rumored market adjustment. All in all, the sale saw a strong sell-through rate, as only 7 of the sale’s 61 lots did not find a buyer, bringing in a final tally of £58,099,000. Buyers seemed particularly eager over the course of the night, clamoring for a sizable portion of the work on competitive bids and rapid back and forth between buyers and Jussi Pylkkanen (cheerfully referred to as “good-old-days” bidding by WSJ’s Kelly Crow), pushing the sale quickly through its procession of works.
The sale got underway with an impressive Calder canvas, swirling with starkly contrasting forms that triples estimate for a final of £602,500, followed by another Calder, this time a mobile, which sold just over estimate for £962,500, and a third work which also tripled estimate for £1,874,500. A Yayoi Kusama hammered below estimate in the next lot, bringing £662,500, and one lot later, a Lucio Fontana performed to expectations, bringing a final price of £1,762,500. Several lots later, a Joseph Beuys work smashed estimates for almost triple estimate at £854,500.
Another sale highlight came at lots 15 and 16, as the pair of Lucian Freud portraits came to the block and sold on fervent bidding, as Head of Esther brought a strong £4,786,599, followed by Head of Ib, which went to the same bidder for a final of £2,546,500. The works were followed shortly after by the pristine Peter Doig work, which just squeaked above estimate for a final of £11,282,500 (one of the lots guaranteed by the auction house). Another major lot came in at lot 25 with Francis Bacon‘s Two Figures, which saw a last second bid to push it above estimate for a final of £5,458,500. A second Doig also performed well at lot 27, beating estimate for a final of £3,442,500, followed by an Yves Klein, work, one of the evening’s highlights, which failed to find a buyer. A David Hockney work at lot 34 also performed well, doubling estimate for a final of £3,106,500, followed by another Hockney that also doubled its price, reaching £1,762,500. Another Hockney passed shortly after.
The sale wound on with few surprises, save a Pistoletto canvas at lot 45 which brought a final of £842,500 over a £300k high, and only a handful of passes, bringing the sale to a consistently strong conclusion.
With the first weeks of sales in the book, early fears about a declining market seem somewhat overinflated, but as interested buyers and shrewd estimates have forestalled a major market adjustment for the time being, but sales later this spring in New York should offer a clearer picture of the market’s health. Until then, one can anticipate ample speculation on the next steps for both of the top auction houses.
Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale [Sotheby’s]