AO Auction Recap – London: Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sales, October 4th – 5th, 2018

October 5th, 2018

Jenny Saville, Propped (1992), via Sotheby's
Jenny Saville, Propped (1992), via Sotheby’s

With the conclusion of the week in London, a trio of auctions have painted an unclear picture of the Post-War and Contemporary Market in Britain, as a series of sales at the major houses saw particularly mixed results over the past two evenings.  With a number of high-profile works going unsold, and a somewhat unsteady level of interest among paintings as a running theme, the sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips saw several strong outings as well as a few notable disappointments, summarized below.

Jeff Koons, Cracked Egg (Blue) (1994-2006), via Christie's
Jeff Koons, Cracked Egg (Blue) (1994-2006), via Christie’s

At Christie’s yesterday evening, the auction house managed to run through its 55-lot outing to a final tally of £84,610,000, a figure that could have been much higher with the inclusion of some of the evening’s most prominent offerings.  The sale kicked off in strong fashion as Albert Oehlen reset his auction record as Bull with Hole tripled estimate to a final of £3,608,750, while one of the star lots of the evening, Francis Bacon’s Figure in Movement, performed admirably to bring a final price of £19,921,250, yet major stumbles came in the following minutes, after Gerhard Richter’s Skull failed to attract interest and went unsold, joined only a few lots later by the Jeff Koons cover lot.  It would define the pace for the rest of the evening, as works priced in the upper reaches of the sale’s price range would fail to sell, including a Mark Grotjahn canvas and a complex arrangement of works by Georg Baselitz. While the auction house did quite well on a string of older Bacon paintings, the sale’s limp outing on its higher-priced works cast a pall on the evening.  Ten lots ultimately went unsold.

Francis Bacon, Figure in Movement (1972), via Christie's

Francis Bacon, Figure in Movement (1972), via Christie’s

Joan Mitchell, Perch and Twirl (1973), via Phillips
Joan Mitchell, Perch and Twirl (1973), via Phillips

This evening, Phillips and Sotheby’s both tried their hands at the market, each seeing some highlights and a few mixed results.  At Phillips, the auction house ran through a brisk 37-lot offering, capping the sale with a final tally of £20.2m.  Leading the sale was a stark Christopher Wool composition, which just topped estimate for a final of £3,834,000, as well as a Joan Mitchell canvas that also beat estimate to sell for a final of £3,129,000.  Peter Doig’s Cobourg 1+3 also beat estimate to reach a final of £1,029,000.

Christopher Wool, Untitled (P271) (1997), via Phillips
Christopher Wool, Untitled (P271) (1997), via Phillips

It was Sotheby’s offering of an impressive body of works from the collection of David Teiger that carried the most buoyant energy of the week, a sprightly 25-lot outing that achieved a 100% sell-through and a £35,921,100 final result.  Chief among the highlights was the landmark portrait Propped by Jenny Saville, which led the sale both by value and by impact, as it blew past estimate quickly and sold for £9,537,250, making Saville the record-holder for the most expensive work by a living female artist, and leading the highlights of the evening offerings.  Also of note in the evening’s offerings was Peter Doig’s pair of Buffalo Station paintings, which achieved strong prices of £7,561,500 and £4,513,200. A yellow Butterfly painting by Mark Grotjahn also led the sale with a final price of £3,722,900.

Roy Lichtenstein, Pyramids (1968),via Sotheby's
Roy Lichtenstein, Pyramids (1968),via Sotheby’s

The second round of offerings at Sotheby’s matched its less impressive series of holdings, as 8 of the 4o lots on sale went unsold, reaching a final of £33,865,900.  An Adrian Ghenie topped estimate to reach a final of £4,851,900, while a white Lucio Fontana managed to sell at estimate for a final of £2,890,000.

Peter Doig, Buffalo Station I (1997), via Sotheby's
Peter Doig, Buffalo Station I (1997), via Sotheby’s

All told, the picture of the contemporary market seems as uncertain as ever, with the highest end of the offerings lacking a certain degree of attraction for buyers.  It should make for an interesting picture next month in New York, where an equally turbulent political climate could make the market picture just as cloudy, or perhaps hold some new answers for the market’s current state.

— D. Creahan

Read more :
Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale [Exhibition Site]
Sotheby’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale [Exhibition Site]
Sotheby’s Teiger Collection Evening Sale [Exhibition Site]
Phillips 20th Century and Contemporary Evening Sale [Exhibition Site]