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Doig and Boetti shine at London contemporary art sales

Auction houses say accurate estimates reflect new financial reality

Peter Doig, Night Playground, 1997/98

London. Peter Doig’s reputation as one of the highest-priced living artists was further enhanced in the latest round of contemporary art sales in London in late June, with two of his paintings racing past their pre-sale estimates.

Doig’s Night Playground, 1997-98, sold for £3m at Christie’s on 30 June, twice its pre-sale low estimate and the highest price of the evening. Richard Prince’s Country Nurse, 2003, had the same estimate of £1.5m-£2m, and sold for £1.7m.

At Sotheby’s sale on 25 June, Doig’s Almost Grown, 2000, topped £2m against an estimate of £1.4-£1.8m. The highest price ever paid for a work by Doig was £5.7m, for his White Canoe of 1990-91. The work, sold at Sotheby’s in London in 2007, is thought to have been purchased by Boris Ivanishvili, the Georgian mining magnate.

The other high achiever of the current season was the Italian arte povera artist Alighiero Boetti (1940-94), whose Rosso Gilera 60 1232 and Rosso Guzzi 60 1305, from 1967, sold at Christie’s for £713,000, twice the pre-sale high estimate and comfortably the highest price ever paid for the artist at auction.

The top lot of the season was Andy Warhol’s Mrs McCarthy and Mrs Brown (Tunafish Disaster), 1963, which sold at Sotheby’s for £3.74m, at the low end of the £3.5m-£4.5m estimate. The two major auction houses each offered 40 lots in their evening sales, Sotheby’s selling 92% of lots for a total of £25.5m, and Christie’s selling 88% for £19m. Christie’s withdrew Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Red Skull, 1982, shortly before the sale, having accepted a private sale offer above the high estimate of £2m.

Phillips de Pury, the third-ranking UK auction house, sold 77% of its contemporary evening sale for a total of £5m on 29 June. The top lot was Ed Ruscha’s That Was Then, This Is Now, 1989, which sold for £713,000, within the estimate of £600,000-£800,000.

The auction houses said their high sell-through rates—and the general accuracy of pre-sale estimates—reflected their success in adjusting sellers’ expectations to the new financial realities.

Apparent exceptions to this was a group of works by highly sought after artists from the 1960s which failed to sell at Christie’s: two by Lucio Fontana, Concetta spaziale, natura, a terracotta piece from 1959-60, (est £1.3m-£1.9m) and Concetto spaziale, Attese, 1966, a small, red painting with four slashes (est £600,000-£900,000); along with Yves Klein’s ANT 159, 1960 (est £1.2m-£1.8m).

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