There was almost palpable relief in the room at Christie’s Thursday (13 October) afternoon, when its “evening” sale of 20th and 21st art was a 100% sell out, with works frequently performing above presale estimates and impressive moments provided by leading lots.
“This sale gives you an indication of how important this week is for London and the energy we have here,” said auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen, at one stage of the 47-lot sale, which fetched a total £72.5m (against a presale estimate of £40.5m to £55.8m, all estimates are calculated without fees).
A promising start
This is only the third year of the auction house’s new format but there was a confident energy in the room and headlining the sale certainly did no harm to David Hockney’s Early Morning Saint-Maxime (1968-69), which hammered in at £18m (£20.8m with fees), well above its £7m to £10m pre-sale estimate (three works were also withdrawn).
A new work by Tracey Emin, Like a Cloud of Blood (2022), which was consigned to raise money for the artist’s TKE Studios complex in Margate, also played its part well, selling for a hammer price of £1.9m (£2.3m with fees, against a £500,000 to £700,000 estimate) and prompting a round of applause from the floor.
Auction stalwarts performed predictably well against sensible estimates. Gerhard Richter’s Wolkenstudie (grün-blau) (Study for Clouds) (1971) sold for £9.5m (£11.2m with fees) and the vibrant Zacharopoulos (1983), went to a Greek bidder, for £1.6m (£1.9m with fees). Conversely, Francis Bacon’s Painting 1990 (1990) failed to reach its £7m lower estimate despite being fresh to the auction block, attracting bids up to £5.9m (£7.1m with fees).
Younger artists saw some new auction records set, notably Caroline Walker’s Catered (2017), which fetched £190,000 (£239,400 with fees) and Sarah Ball’s portrait painting Untitled (AC16) (2017) which sold for £75,000 (£94,500 with fees). Two tapestries also did well—a physical one by Grayson Perry, The Adoration of the Cage Fighters (From the Vanity of Small Differences) (2012), fetched a £140,000 hammer price (£176,400 with fees), and a digital tapestry by Andrea Bonaceto, AB Infinite 1 (minted in May 2022), hammered in at £120,000 (£151,200 with fees).
The “surprise” success of the day was not actually that surprising: Every Night, All Night (1974) by Ernie Barnes sold for £440,000 (£554,400 with fees), dwarfing its £100,000 lower estimate. The impressive result was hardly unprecedented: the late athlete-turned-artist’s Solid Rock Congregation (1993) sold for $1.6m (with fees) at Bonhams New York in September, against an estimate of $500,000, and in May his iconic 1976 painting The Sugar Shack fetched $15.2m (with fees) at Christie’s in New York—about 100 times its low estimate.
Lively bidding was clear for Yoshitomo Nara’s Girl with a Knife (1999) and Scott Kahn’s Croquet (1992), the latter of which managed to attract £630,000 (£793,800 with fees) more than five times over its lower estimate, prompting auctioneer Pylkkänen to call out: “Don’t hesitate, or you’ll lose it.”
The recurring question of the week is whether the weakness of the British pound is contributing to stronger sales. Certainly, the presence of multiple American bidders was mentioned, but post-sale results suggest that 62% of bidders were from Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Slower pace for Devereux collection
The second sale of the afternoon, “A Place with No Name: Works from Sina Jina Collection”, presented 73 works from the Robert Devereux collection but was largely unable to keep up the energy of the earlier event.
Despite Veronica Scarparti having to work hard in a sales room which felt less predictable and led to a couple of lots failing to sell, the overall results were stable, bringing in a total £2.9m with fees (comfortably near its £2.7m upper estimate, without fees), with 20% proceeds from the sale headed to the African Arts Trust. Demonstrating the youth of some of the market, eight artist records were also set including by hybrids, aliens and ghosts (2013) by ruby onyinyechi amanze, which sold for £17,000 (£21,420 with fees).
Nevertheless, art from Africa and the African diaspora has been a strong discussion point in London this week, no doubt buoyed by the positive reception for the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House, the current exhibition of William Kentridge’s work at the Royal Academy and a collage by the latter safely hammered in at £70,000 (£88,000 with fees). Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Highpower (2008) hammered in £1.15m (£1.4m with fees), attracting applause in the room.
A contemporary art day sale takes place later today (14 October) and an online-only contemporary art sale runs until 18 October.