Auctions Contemporary art Market United Kingdom

The kids are alright

Young artists soar again at Sotheby’s contemporary sale, while stalwarts like Richter are bought in

The star lot on the night was Glenn Brown’s Ornamental Despair (Painting for Ian Curtis) copied from 'The Stars Like Dust', 1986 by Chris Foss, 1994, which sold to a private US collector for a weighty £3.6m (est £2m-£3m), an increase of more than 100-fold since it was sold at Christie's, London in 2002 for £32,900

Sotheby’s contemporary evening auction got off to a frenetic start on Thursday night as the senior specialist and auctioneer Oliver Barker rattled through the first few lots at break-neck speed. Barker’s enthusiasm was matched in the sales room by bidders eager to snap up a work by one of the hot young artists up first on the block. “As befits Frieze week, tonight was a celebration of the young, the new and the really contemporary artists,” said Alex Branczik, the head of Sotheby’s contemporary art department in London, noting that more than half the bidders were also on the younger side, aged under 50.

A record was set for Alex Hubbard (b. 1975) in his first evening sale, with Dead in Pompeii, 2011, fetching £98,500 (est £40,000-£60,000). Other works by young artists sailed above estimate including Pink Altima, 2005, by Nate Lowman (b. 1986), which sold for £206,500 (est £80,000-£120,000), and Oscar Murillo’s Champagne, 2011, which went for £212,500 (est £40,000-£60,000). Over at Frieze, David Zwirner, who recently took on the 27-year-old Colombian-born artist, sold a 2013 Murillo painting for a comparatively low $120,000 (£74,000).

Another rising star, Lynette Yiadom Boakye (b. 1977), made her first appearance at auction with the painting, Politics, 2005, which sold for £52,500—more than twice its upper estimate of £20,000.

A work on paper by Christopher Wool—the “father” of the younger generation, as Cheyenne Westphal, the chairman of contemporary art for Sotheby’s Europe, described him—also soared, going for £812,500, more than four times its low estimate. The result is a record for a work on paper by Wool.

The star lot on the night was Glenn Brown’s Ornamental Despair (Painting for Ian Curtis) copied from 'The Stars Like Dust', 1986 by Chris Foss, 1994, which sold to a private US collector for a weighty £3.6m (est £2m-£3m). The work has increased more than 100-fold in value since it was sold at Christie's, London in 2002 for £32,900.

Four other works went for more than £1m, including Andreas Gursky’s photograph Paris, Montparnasse, 1993, which Deutsche Telekom sold to fund new acquisitions “as it changes the focus of its collection to contemporary artists from southeast, eastern Europe and Turkey”, according to a statement from the company. The top selling woman on the night, Louise Bourgeois, just missed out on the £1m mark; her work, Les Fleurs, 2010, sold for £986,500 to the US collector George Greig.

The £21.5m grand total (76% sold by value and 81% sold by lot)—against a revised estimate of between £21.6m and £30.8m (a Jean-Michel Basquiat work on paper and a Takashi Murakami painting were withdrawn prior to the sale)—was blighted by the lack of bidding for Juan Muñoz’s “conversation” piece (est £2m-£3m) and Gerhard Richter’s lime green Abstraktes Bild from 1994 (est £1.5m-£2m). Both works were bought in. At last year's October evening sale at Sotheby's, a Richter painting sold by the musician Eric Clapton contributed a record £21.3m to the auction house's £44.1m sales total.


A record was set for Alex Hubbard (b. 1975) in his first evening sale, with Dead in Pompeii, 2011, fetching £98,500 (est £40,000-£60,000)
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